Translated by Yocheved Klausner
We continue walking through the half-ruined some entirely ruined streets of the old city. We stop by the house no. 28 on Oslanovicze Street.
This house was the place where the kitchen for hungry children in the ghetto had been. The kitchen was founded and operated by the children themselves. The story of the kitchen is told by Avraham Halber, his wife Hanke Apel and the sole survivor among the workers in the kitchen, Lusia Gorstein:
The hunger in the ghetto had reached everyone. Masses of people, adults and children alike, swollen and weak, would ramble in the streets from garbage can to garbage can, looking among the waste for something to alleviate their hunger. But soon a group of resourceful children came up with a plan to help their unfortunate sisters and brothers. They decided to open a kitchen and prepare every day some hot food for the children.
The group had a meeting and chose a managing committee: Chanale Eisenberg, (Efraim Tzelnik's granddaughter), Lilia and Salek Yablon (Yissachar Yablon's children), Lusia Gorstein (daughter of David and Ida Gorstein of the entire group she alone survived), Dina'chke Tchibotzka (Shlomo's daughter), Ida Friedman, Marisha and Koba Levin (Yoel'ke Levin's children) and Feigele Yablon (Yosef's daughter).
A delegation of the children's committee approached the Judenrat, presented their plan and asked for help. The Judenrat gave the children a sum of money, with which the children managed to open the kitchen.
In order to be able to maintain the kitchen, the children sought help from different sources: they asked for regular donations from the Jews in the ghetto who could afford it; pairs of children would go through the streets and alleys of the ghetto and sell various artifacts; they collected food and clothes; in the garden of the house they organized various performances; in the courtyard they held sales; all this produced income that was used to buy food.
Almost all the children in the ghetto were drawn into this important work. Children who still had enough to eat at home would share their meals with those who had not. Many children would not touch their food at home before their parents donated a certain sum of money for the children's kitchen committee.
A group of women decided to join the children in their holy work. They helped obtain products a very difficult task at that time and worked in the kitchen as well. Among the women were Ida Gorstein, Bronca Yablon, Andje Levin and others. Some people made important material contributions. Among them were Mr. Parness, a refugee from Germany who lived at the time in the Siedlce ghetto and Mr. Ganzwohl, a Siedlce convert to Christianity who, seeing the terrible tragedy that befell the Jews, repented and returned to Judaism, and devoted himself to helping needy Jews and especially hungry children.
The children's committee worked according to a rigorous plan and followed all the rules of an organized corporation. The management and the secretary properly registered all needy children and distributed food according to plan.
With time, the committee and the kitchen expanded and developed into a central institution in the ghetto, whose aim was to give help to all needy. In those ill-fated days, cold, hunger, poverty and epidemics raged in the ghetto. From alleys, from crowded little houses, from cellars and attics, a stream of hundreds of poorly clad and swollen children would move at midday toward the house on 28 Oslanovicze Street. For many of them the little food they received there was their only meal of the day. Some of them shared the food with their parents, who would wait in a side alley, sit on the ground and silently have their daily meal.
This holy work of the school children, helping their sisters and brothers lasted a very long time in the locked up ghetto. It was savagely interrupted on 9 Elul 5702 [22 August 1942], when the children and their parents were driven by the Germans, the Ukrainians and the other child-murderers to the Umschlag-Platz and from there to the gas chambers of Treblinka.
Translated by Theodore Steinberg
And there we are by the ruins of the butchers' beis-medresh on the former Yatke Street.
There has always been an element of dislike between the fine Jewscommitted Chasidim and scholarsand the common working Jews, simple workers, especially butchers, the greatest number of whom lived on Yatke Street. This antagonism was most greatly felt in the shuls and beis-medreshes, where the fine Jews, scholars and well-to-do merchants, considered themselves superior. They took the best seats by the eastern wall, the biggest honors at the Torah reading, and on Simchas Torah they took the most important roles.
The shuls and beis-medreshes were themes sensitive places where the ordinary people were overlooked, when people took up
congregational matters. They were referred to as the amei haaretz, a term from ancient times that meant: Know your place and don't stick your nose where it doesn't belong. Those fine Jews knew what was best in such matters as choosing a rabbi, a shocker, a cantor, and in all other community matters when there were meetings, as was normal, in the shul and beis-medreshes.
To these insults and snubs Siedlce's common Jews answered with a great revolution. The carpenters, tailors, and shoemakers from Pienkne Street formed their own shuls, such as the Parkhei Shoshanim shul. The butchers from Yatke Street also built their own beis-medresh on their street.
With extraordinary love and devotion, these simple folk, the butchers from Yatke Street and the surrounding streets, built their beis-medresh. The building was simple and poor, as simple and poor as its owners and builders. The wall were of simple red bricks and the ceiling was of simple wooden beams. In the middle was a simple wooden reading stand. Because they were the proprietors, they had the whole eastern wall and all the Torah and Simchas Torah honors that they desired. They were happy with their poor spiritual goods because they were their own.
There were no great scholars among those who prayed in the butchers' beis-medresh who could sit and teach. Nor did they have any extra time, because they were always occupied, either going to surrounding towns to find something to slaughter or busy on Yatke Street chopping up the meat for their fancy customers. But before going to the villages at dawn, when it was still dark, or before opening up on Yatke Street, going into the beis-medresh to pray or to recite some chapters of Psalms was considered an obligation for all the butchers, and they were attentive to it. As it says in the verse, Set up for yourself a teacher (or rabbi), they paid for a teachera poor Jew, learned in the Torah. They paid him a few zlotys a week and he taught them in the evenings between the afternoon and evening prayersa chapter of Mishnah or a page from Ein Yakov. On Shabbos he learned with them a chapter and explained the Torah portion. And, since the Navaradok yeshiva, which had fled the persecutions of the Bolshevik bullies and had relocated in Siedlce, the butchers arranged for the yeshiva boys to take meals with them
on the condition that they would teach in the beis-medresh, and so the sound of learning resounded in the surrounding streets by night and by day.
I remember several times when I was in the butchers' beis-medresh, on special occasions: once, as a messenger from the Keren Kayames L'Yisroel, in order to inform the worshippers there about the activities and plans of the KKL in Eretz Yisroel. I cannot forget how much interest the simple Jews showed in the conclusions, how their eyes sparkled with pleasure when they heard that there in Eretz Yisroel, in the fields of the KKL, Jewish peasants worked to grow their own provisions. I felt their spirit that burned with envy that they could not be among those fortunate people.
Another timethis was on Erev Yom Kippur evening put out collection plates to collect funds in the shuls and beis-medreshes. I was charged by the KKL to be responsible for the collection plate in the butchers' beds-medresh. That moment, too, I cannot forget, with what devotion, joy and expansiveness those simple poor folk threw their contributions into the KKL plate. Their beaming faces showed such thankfulness that the KKL had not overlooked them and had given them, these simple Jews, the possibility to add their few groschen and thus take part in the sacred movement of redeeming the earth of Eretz Yisroel from non-Jewish hands.
And another time I saw the Jews of Yatke Street in their beis-medresh in a particularly solemn moment, that, again, I will never forget.
For many years in the beis-medresh, they had added groschen upon groschen, raised from donations for Torah honors, for Mi shebeirachs, and for other things and they wanted to use those funds to have a Torah written.
When the writing of the Torah was completed, they made a special celebrration such as Siedlce had never seen. Preparations went on for weeks and months. On many evenings, after the businesses on Yatke Street had closed, the wives of the butchers assembled to cook and fry, to bake and roast, They prepared the choicest foods for the celebration; whole days and long nights the daughters of the butchers sat and embroidered with gold and silver threads the holy letters
that the scribe had sketched on the dark red velvet mantle for the Torah scroll and on the curtain for the Holy Ark.
For three days, none of the butchers conducted business, neither going to the villages nor opening their shops. The celebration lasted for three days, with a meal fit for a king, with the choicest dishes and beverages, with music and dancing. Under a chuppah people led the new sefer Torah into the great town synagogue. A group of butchers then rolled up the sleeves of their fancy Shabbos clothing and danced in the streets, as sparks of fire flew from their upturned heels jumped around the circle of dancers and the bystanders.
The sefer Torah, under the chuppah, the dancing crowd, and the musicians playing in the streets were escorted by a squadron of Red Cossacks with their red stripes on their pants, with their big black forelocks flowing behind their Cossack helmets, armed with swords and spears. They truly looked like Don Cossacks, not poor Old City imitations.
At that moment it seemed as if the whole world rejoiced with the simple, primitive Jews. Everyone joined in the dancing, especially members of the beis-medresh, where the whole celebration went on. The poor red bricks wall, the wooden beams, the reading stand, the tables, the benches, and everything else seemed to take part in the beautiful dancing circle.
Other beautiful memories of the not-too-distant past that are tied up with various places in the streets of the non-Jewish Old City, with their simple working Jews, with their beloved beis-medresh, all emerge in my memory, scald my heart and mind as I walk these grounds. But they soon dissolve and flee in light of the tragic images of ruin that we encounter with every step.
The butchers' beis-medresh was not destroyed during the first period of the barbarian rule in the city. Like the great synagogue with its beis-medresh, it served as a home for the poorest and most unfortunate people in the ghetto. There were many hundreds of Jews (possibly even thousands) who, with the loss of their homes and their possessions, also lost the will to
to live. They resigned themselves. They had not the strength or the courage to fight against all the troubles and difficulties and and they did not know how to find for themselves a corner in some small house, an attic, a cellar, or a stall in the confinements of the ghetto. Those unlucky ones who remained outside without a roof over their heads crowded together in the butchers' beis-medresh, found there their home in that small spot, where their broken bodies had room only to sit up.
The unfortunates were packed in like herring in a barrel. Swollen from hunger, filthy from not having a place to lie down or a blanket, without soap, without the most basic human necessities, so that the beis-medresh fostered the greatest number of chronic illnesses and the greatest number of deaths in the ghetto. There was no day when the wagon did not have to take away several dead bodies.
The German murderers often visited the unfortunate inhabitants of the beis-medresh. They came to marvelat first to photograph the packed together shadows of people, and then to take several out behind the beis-medresh wall and shoot them (among them, Abgrahamele the sexton of the great synagogue).
Afterwards, when the unfortunate inhabitants of the butchers' beis-medresh had been transported to Treblinka, during the liquidation of the large ghetto, their home suffered the same fate as all the other shuls and beis-medreshes in the city. The German vandals burned it, and the local thieves carried off and stole everything that had been left behind. All that remained were the naked red walls, ashamed, blackened by ash and rain, as an abandoned gravestone that cries out in dumb sorrow over its own destruction and over the destruction of its destroyed worshipersthe simple Jews of the Old City.
When we approach it and look around the ruins through the gaping door and window openings that look out onto the half-destroyed street, like the large eye sockets of a corpse, it strikes the head and the heart with deep gloomand it strikes the nose with a stinking stale aroma of trash and human waste, left by the neighbors, who thought this was an appropriate spot.
There is something to tell about the neighboring house at 6 Yatke Street, which was the bakery of Yakov Piekasz:
In the attic of that house, on the tragic Shabbos of August 22, thirty Jews hid, most of them acquaintances of the Piekasz family and their daughter Chana. Among them were the daughter of Ben Zion Zucker. The attic was well hidden above the bakery and the apartment where people could hide for a time when the barbaric Germans hunted defenseless Jews in the ghetto.
Along with the murder bands who undertook to seek the hidden Jews in the emptied ghetto, there was an SS man from the Sonderdienst, the hangman Bakenstassa Volksdeutsch, a killer of the first magnitude, who distinguished himself with wild atrocities and sadism in finding Jews, especially young children. He found the hidden thirty Jews in Piekasz's house. With horrible ferocity he forced the unfortunates out into the street, where he sot each of them with his own bloody hands.
Piekasz' wife lived on, even though she had taken several bullets in her chest. She spoke up and begged them to end her life, to shoot her, but none of the murderers was willing to do so. She was thrown alive onto the wagon along with all the dead and led to the cemetery to their grave. From there she was led back into the ghetto, where she at last found an executioner who ended her life.
A similar story befell the painter Federman. He, too, as Binyamin Halberstam recounts, was taken to the cemetery, having been shot but still alive. He also pleaded to be shot. He was taken back from the cemetery to the ghetto, where the chief executioner Fabish was waiting. He called to a gendarme and ordered him to shoot the wounded, half dead Federman. The gendarme refused to carry out the order. I am not certainthe gendarme refused (a wonder!), so that Fabish ended Federman's life himself, shooting him several times.
Another group of Jews who were found in a hiding place were led to the cemetery and there shot. Among them was the young Kuba Levin (son of Yoelke Levin). Somehow the buillets missed him. He lay there in the cemetery, covered by the Jews who had been shot. Later
he crawled out. For a time he hid in his grandfather's mill, then went back to the small ghetto. Later he fell in Lublin in the underground battle against the Germans.
Translated by Theodore Steinberg
And then we were at the home of the former mikveh on Yatke Street at the corner of Browarna. This was the only building that belonged to the community organization in which part of itactually a single roomwas in the possession of the Jewish Committee. We therefore were able to enter freely to rest a bit and to observe.
There was much to observe in this home of the former mikveh that had now been transformed into a central point for all the Jewish organizations in Siedlce.
First of all, there was there an orphans home, not for orphan childrennone of these were left in Siedlcebut for the several grown and impoverished orphans, young men with gray hair, pinched faces, and dull eyes who had only recently emerged from underground holes, from bunkers, and from the woods, and for the several poor, broken wanderers who returned from the distant Siberian taigas. They came here seeking someone. None of them had nowhere to go, no corner with a roof for their heads where they could spend the nights. For them the Jewish Committee made this a home: they divided a room in half and put bundles of straw on the floor. After a day of wandering through the ruins of their destroyed homes and the unrecognizable graves of their near and dear ones in the desecrated, despoiled cemetery, they could come here to rest, the poor cemetery searchers.
It was now noon, and there we met about ten of these shadowy orphan wanderers. They had grown tired and wandered in to rest after traipsing through the ruins. They lay stretched out on the straw in their clothes, quietly, deep in thought with bleary eyes looking somewhere off in the distance through the windows under which lay their baggage and provisions: a few pieces of bread, a cup of water, and a few pieces of clothing that
had received from PUR (a Polish repatriation organization) or from the Jewish Committee.
The other half of the room was itself divided in two. In one half, that is, in a quarter of the original room, stood a table with a chairthis was the office of the Jewish Committee. Each day in the morning hours the committee's secretary, Avraham Friedman, would sit by the table. He registered the newly arrived cemetery searchers.
In the fourth quarter of the room was the office where the technical work of the committee was conducted. The committee's meetings were conducted in private apartments of the committee members, Yisroel Kravetz and Yontel Goldman. They also had an album with hundreds of photographs that the German murderers took of the Jews before killing them. Tragic scenes of tears, spasms, and fainting took place when new arrivals recognized in these photographs their near and dear ones, parents, children, sisters and brothers. They trembled, their blood froze in their veins when they saw our near ones and our acquaintances before their terrible ends: emaciated faces with sharply defined jaws, bent backs, dead-seeming eyes that looked out from a sea of helplessness and resignation, of contempt and horror, like people on the edge of death from whom had been taken the image of God and every belief had been hollowed out.
The last quarter of the mikveh building, that occupied a corner between the door and the window, had a high purpose: it contained a museum of the destroyed community. At the far corner stood a chest filled with remnants of desecrated holy objects.
With trembling hands I rifle through collection and look at everything. First: a half of a Sefer Torah, naked and ashamed, rolled up on its Etz Chaim, dirtied with mud and unclean hands andthis is hard to sayI think there are flecks of blood. The Committee bought this from a local Christian for a good sum. The other half off the Sefer Torah no longer existed. They used it for some kind of business that the times called for: for light summer sandals, for children's hats, and the rest for hand baskets decorated with Torah strips, which the city and village
citizens eagerly bought as a fashion item during the years when the devil reigned.
Several pieces of such fashioned merchandise, bought by the Committee, lay there in the museum chest and clung to the naked and embarrassed half of the Sefer Torah, exactly as if they wanted to reunite and be as they were before the rape, as they were predestined to be, when they were a sacred thing, clothed in a pure satin mantle and standing in a sacred Holy Ark in some shul or beis-medresh, surrounded by an aura of holiness, serving as as guide for the world with the words that they contained.
People say that when the vandals conducted their wild orgies with drink and whoredom, they often spread out under their feet Sifrei Toros and other holy things as if they wanted thereby to take revenge on Thou shalt not murder and the other Thou shalt nots that were inscribed there.
Around that half Torah scroll in the chest were a collection of other books and holy writings. Their leather or linen bindings were useful and they lay withdrawn, naked, embarrassed, torn, and muddy, which was a comment on the various metamorphoses and hellish torments they had experienced since the day when they were torn from their bookshelves, along with their owners and protectors until they found themselves at rest in the poor chest in a corner of the mikveh.
My hands trembled, along with my heart as I sorted and examined the desecrated silent Otzar, that was in the chest. I found a bit of the Talmudic tractate Gittin, folded over, as if it would tell about the destruction of the Second Temple, a ragged Midrash Rabba, a half of the book of Job, a fragment of a Chumash, a Mahzor, a Siddur, a lamentation, a selichah, and several shabby Psalms, coated and stained with tears. It seemed that they were the most common books in the ghetto, along with a few other books.
On some of the books there were inscriptions such as This book is the property of . I found there several familiar names of prayer houses and of private people to whom the books had belonged.
As the Committee members explained, there would soon be another organization: a kitchen for the homeless wanderers.
The kitchen was already functioning. It distributed lunch for the remnant of survivors and for those wandering, returning Siedlce Jews, using aid that came from America and items that the Joint provided through the Central Committee. But the kitchen was located for the time in the attic of a house cat the corner of Stary Rynek and First of May, where they used to hang laundry; they laid boards across trestles to serve as tables; they put other boards on top of boxes to serve as benches. At lunchtime the remnant of homeless people and the wanderers would assemble to eat lunch. Now they were preparing to move the kitchen to the mikveh building.
From the mikveh building we exited to the half-darkened vestibule that served a number of community purposes: a waiting area for those who came with business for the Committee; a kitchen for guests who were staying there. And the bucket with water, great dishes and cups that stood on the bare ground, as well as the puddles, were evidence that this was a place for washing.
Above, instead of a ceiling, there was a dark black hole that inspired fear and terror.
We went up the ladder that stood in a corner and looked into the dark attic. It inspired a dark gloom with its hot, sticky air. It felt as if the angel of death would have gasped there with his dead black wings. And this is what we learned there:
On that terrible Shabbos of the great massacre, in this dark, stinking attic, under the hot tin roof, seventy unlucky souls took refuge, mostly women and children. They sought safety and a hiding place among the dark attic shadows and the many years worth of spider webs. They were there for three days, tormented by hunger, thirst, and the heat that came from the hot tin roof. These half-dead unfortunates held their breath, stifled their coughs so as not to be noticed and discovered by the murderous trackers who were, with their tracking dogs, running through the emptied ghetto in search of hidden Jews.
On the fourth day, Tuesday, suffering from hunger, thirst and heat, a child, a young girl, left the hiding place and went tremulously
to the nearest pump in search of water. The poor child was noticed by one of the murderers, the executioner Bakenshtas. Like a sophisticated hunter he went after the child, petted her head, spoke sweetly to her, helped her get some water, gave her chocolate and told her to give some to her mother and sisters. The murderer followed the child and found all of the unfortunate jews who were hiding in the dark attic and he shot all of them all by himself.
God of Vengeance
It pains the heart to see everyone that we find there on the empty, darkened mikveh grounds.
I stand paralyzed on the threshold between the orphanage and the mikveh. I look once again into the dark shadows of death that sweep around and peer down from the vast hole in the mikveh's attic, which was the slaughter house for so many souls. And then I look at the wretched remnant that remains of our community and is now concentrated in three corners of the darkened mikveh building: on these human shadows who lie on straw in their boundless, helpless suffering; I look at the poor broken tables and benches that comprise the central aid organization for the community and at the collected holy remnants that lie in the rest in the corner, to which my hand is again instinctively drawn. I pick up a torn page of Psalms. I look at it and I see before my eyes the gilded, tear covered page of Psalm 94, yellowed and soaked with the tears that my simple, annihilated fellow citizens wept before their terrible end. I hide myself in a corner, by the chest of holy relics and I read with devotion:
O Lord, You God to whom vengeance belongs! You God to whom vengeance
belongs, shine forth.
Lift Yourself up, You Judge of the earth;
Give the proud what they deserve.
How long shall the wicked, O Lord,
How long shall the wicked exult?
They overflow, they speak proudly,
The workers of iniquity elevate themselves.
They crush Your people, O Lord,
And they torment your heirs.
They murder the widow and the stranger,
And they kill the orphans.
And they say, God will not see,
And the God of Jacob will not notice
Translated by Theodore Steinberg
We cross from one win to another, from one slaughter ground to another, through the Old City, in the days of the destruction, was called The Small Ghetto. This was the triangle where the corners of three streets converged: Aslanowicz, Targowa, and Sokolower.
Once, before the destruction, the old, small wooden houses were occupied by porters, wagoners, travelers to other villages, and similar poor people. This was the city center of Jewish poverty and need. Later, in the last stage of destruction, this poor quiet corner merited being the center of the greatest pain and suffering for the small remnant of our community, who were there tortured during the last three months of their lives.
We consider the few poor buildings and get the idea of how those unfortunate people, who numbered about two thousand, lived there, tormented and holding out for a whole three months in such barbaric circumstances as were imposed by the Nazis.
They stand dumb, closed up, the remaining wooden houses of the small ghetto with their twisted doors and windows. They say nothing about the horrible tragedies that took place within their walls.
The open gutters that run down both sides of the street are silent. They do not tell how much Jewish blood flowed through them on each day of slaughter.
The stones oof the sidewalk are silent, the simple stones of the past and also the newer gravestones with their four-cornered holy letters that the vandals brought there from the cemetery to
pave the streets. They do not tell how much life was torn away upon them during the dark day of the devil's lordship.
Also silent were the few willow and acacia trees that stand there by the crossroads of the deserted, half-dead streets. Blown by the spring wind, they rock back and forth and whisper quietly with their green-leafed heads. Only God knows whether that is a Kaddish for the murdered former inhabitants or they are simply driving away the heat to protect the new neighbors. And perhaps their whispering is a prayer for their health and well-being. But they do not say, the trees, how many of our unhappy fellow citizens lost their souls in these shadows and how many were hanged on their branches.
And quiet, too, is the ground, the slaughtering field of our people. It lies spread out like a silent carcass exudes a stench. It speaks only of the sea of tears and blood that it had absorbed, of the fearful harvest that occurred there and of the innocent lives that were devoured.
The sky over this small ghetto-hell, to which our unhappy compatriots directed their despairing glances and quiet, heartrending prayers and poured out their trembling hearts, with there hands raised to Him in their most painful tragic minutes. The sky, which looked on everyone, saw everything from aboveit, too, lies locked up in its deep blue, plays thoughtlessly with the sea of shimmering sunbeams and remains silent.
The new inhabitants of the place are silent. They inherited, aside from the houses of the murdered Jews, also the little grottoes, the legendary Jewish propertiesthey watch the few wandering Jews with reservations, some with horror, as if they are watching spirits who are returning from the other world. They stand silent and barely answer the questions they are asked.
Silent! Everything is silent! It appears, just as earlier, in the days of destruction, that everythingheaven and earth, the world and nature, people and God, not only did not overturn things, but was not destroyed with our people, but worked hand in hand with the bloody destroyers and quietly went along with their fiendish work. And now, too, after the destruction, everything worked together to confirm that silence, not to reveal anything, so that all will disappear in a sea of forgetfulness, erased
from memory, as if it had never happened.
Is everything deaf, blind, and dumb, or is the custodian of history ashamed to recount it, to record this ugly, bloody chapter?Perhaps both together.
Perhaps everything would go away in the confusion of forgetfulness if not for the oversight, as in other instances, of a few surviving witnesses who themselves suffered through that hellish period, what the surviving remnant of our destroyed people experienced in the small ghettothat should tell us, tell the coming generations and tell history, how great human suffering and woe can be and how widely barbaric atrocities and human evil can extend.
And they do tell, those few living survivors:
That tragic Shabbos, the 22nd of August, when the executioners prepared the small ghetto for the chosen from the selection, they counted on five hundred seventy people. According to their Nazi calculations, those few small buildings offered sufficient living room for that number of condemned Jews who were to be left alive for only a short time.
That Shabbos night, after the selection, the five hundred seventy chosen, in a convoy, urged on with beatings, were led into the small ghetto. These fortunate chosen ones organized themselves in groups of twenty or twenty-five in the ghetto building, in stalls, attics, and cellars.
And although the small ghetto was immediately after its creation surrounded by a squad of Ukrainian Sonderdienst and Polish police, who guarded it thoroughly so that no one could get in, with the help of bribes to the Polish police, individuals at first, then scores, and even later hundreds were successful at entering the small island of life, as people then thought of the small ghetto in the surrounding sea that was ruled by death. It was not long before the number of souls there grew to about two thousand.
Gradually it developed in this way:
The first who tore themselves from he claws of the angel of death were the few lucky ones whom the orderlies and nurses
at the hospital had pulled out as wounded or ill, as well as those who were disguised as orderlies at the Umschlagplatz. Some had meanwhile hidden in the hospital and some managed to mix in with the chosen group from the selection and entered the small ghetto with them.
On Monday the Extermination Squad that had come to carry out the massacre had left Siedlce. The local executioners were left to bring things to an end. With the reduction inn the number of Germans in the city it was easier for some people who had hidden in various hiding places in the large ghetto to convey themselves, in the dark of night, through back ways into the small ghetto by paying off the Polish police.
In the large ghetto bands of Germans and Ukrainians went around with coal Polish assistants and well-trained dogs seeking Jews in hiding places. They dragged them out of their hiding places and killed them on the spot or took them to the cemetery and shot them. This persuaded the unfortunate ones to seek ways to get into the small ghetto, where people had legal living rights. Many lost their lives in this process, but some managed to escape.
The clearing away of the dead from the streets of the large ghetto and from the Umschlagplatz and loading them on wagons and taking them to the ghetto entrance was done by the selected ones. It also provided an opportunity to some to leave their hiding places in the dangerous large ghetto, take part in the work with the corpses, and then enter the small ghetto with the selected.
When knowledge reached the villages of what had been done to the Jews in the city, it awakened the desire in certain portions of the village population to take action, and they organized raids on the unfortunate Jews who had hidden in the villages or wandered in the woods and fields. The peasants robbed the Jews they found, killed them, or turned them over to the Gestapo. Also, it worked out that many of these unhappy Jews who had hidden in the villages or took refuge in the empty woods and fields, not wanting to be robbed by the peasants, through different means managed
in the dark of night to get into that little island of lifethe small ghetto.
No matter how dark and empty life was for the chosen and those who had come to the small ghetto from other places, it was especially tragic and hopeless for old people, women, and children who, on that dark Shabbos, had hidden. They were all condemned. They belonged to the gas chambers in Treblinka. Only men could live legally in the small ghetto, and then only men between fifteen and fifty, no old people, no women, and no children. So where should all these condemned ones go? Should they remain in their wretched hiding place in the liquidated large ghetto, where they would be rooted out by the murderers and suffer certain death? Should they sneak into the small ghetto? What would happen when the Germans encountered them? The whole small ghetto would soon be liquidated, and so would they. The old people, the women, and the children, together with the chosen, would either be sent to Treblinka or stood up against a wall and shot. So had Fabish himself declared.
A tragic situation, with no solution.
Of the two possibilities, the instinct for life led the old, the women, and the children into the ghetto. Some of them sought places to hideperhaps someone could find them a secure placeand some became depressed and resigned, hoping that by chance they would be among their own, among Jews. Many of the older people and the women fell along the way, but some escaped at that moment.
Among the escaped older men who came to the small ghetto were: Yitzchak Nahum Weintraub, Ben-Zion Zucker, Shlomo Shmuel Abarbanel, Kalman Friedman, Herzl and Nahum Halbershtadt, Henech Goldfarb, Itshe Meir Shochet and his son Yakov, Yitzchak Kagan, and others.
The women dressed in men's clothing (helped by the chosen legals) and located themselves in the most concealed places in the small ghetto so that they would not be noticed by the Germans, Ukrainians, and Polish police, who seemed to be everywhere. In deathly fear they waited in their hiding places for their fate, which lay in the hands of the bloody murderers.
The worst was for the little children. They were
hungry and thirsty. It was terrible in the narrow, stuffy cellars, bunkers, and other hiding places, where they cried and cried. Their cries could betray them. The bloody murderers will hear and entrap not only them, the unhappy children, but their mothers and everyone else who was found and lead to the liquidation of the ghetto. How horrible! There were two instancespeople saywhen little children were strangled by their own parents and others nearby in their hiding spots! To such a level had the murderers led these unfortunate people.
Noneno children remain from that bloody epoch.
There were some who escaped from the Treblinka death transports by ripping off a door or by ripping off the iron bars from the train car windows and jumping from the wagons. Those who were not killed by the Germans and the Ukrainians who escorted the transports or by the larcenous peasants who waited for victims by the train tracks with axes and sticks and killed them managed through various back roads to get to the small ghetto.
There were also some Jews, not from Siedlce, who escaped from Treblinka and came to Siedlce to the small ghetto. They worked at loading the wagons with booty from the victims that the murderers were sending home. Having nothing to lose, they hid themselves among the packages of clothing and shoes. Siedlce was the nearest and first station for the trains headed to Treblinka. The Jews who had escaped from the transport trains sought ways to remain in Siedlce, where there was still a legal ghetto with a few Jews.
They also brought with them the horrifying but true news from the work campTreblinka.
Thus did all the oppressed, all the unfortunate, shut out from the Book of Life, who had somehow escaped to the city and its neighborhood gather in the small ghetto.
Understandably, with the growth in the number of people, the crowding in the small area became worse, and in the few small building, not only in cellars, attics, and stalls, people were oppressed
by the crowding, even trying to find a little open spot on the ground in a courtyard or a garden so they could play down their tired, worn out bodies for rest. This was one of the hardest things to accomplish.
Mrs. Ida Tenenbaum-YomTov, who alone survived in the small ghetto for the entire three months of its existence, gives the following testimony of that time:
On Wednesday, August 26, Fabish, the commander in the city, issued an order that the small ghetto would continue to exist, on the condition that everyone there would work.
This order was taken to be a kind of amnesty or pardon for the illegals who had gotten into the small ghettowomen and older peopleand for those who were still hiding out in the large ghetto. They could freely, in broad daylight, leave their hiding places and enter the small ghetto.
There was a short burst of excitement after the difficult experiences of the recent tragic days, a spot of hope for the naive: Was it possible? Had they gone far enough?
But like all the German promises of that time, so the assurances of the city commander turned out to be a swindle, a sophisticated killing game, made to lure the hidden ones from their hiding places so they could be killed.
Early in the morning, thirty women and little girls, escorted by the Polish police, went out to work. They were taken to clean the empty houses in the large ghetto and to separate and pack the stolen Jewish goods that the murderers had taken from their victims.
During the day, after this labor, the thirty women were locked up in the ghetto prisonin the former community rooms of the shul. After they were there for several hours, the murderers bound their hands behind them with wire and took them in a truck to the cemetery, stood them up by a wall, and shot all of them on the pretext that they had stolen, that they had donned the clothing of the Jews who had been robbed.
Only one of these unfortunate women, Esther Spector, managed
to escape: with a piece of iron that she had accidentally found in the prison room, she hacked a hole the size of two bricks in the wall, and at the last minute, before they were taken to the cemetery, she managed to get out.
(About the shameful mass murder of these twenty-nine women we will speak in another place, when we come to their abandoned graves.)
Among the women who were shot were Rusze Landau, the wife of the lawyer Yosef Landau, who miraculously, during that week, had escaped twice: on Shabbos from the Umschlagplatz he escaped with the help of the hospital personnel and hid there as a nurse; and three days laterat the time of the slaughter at the hospital. She left behind two young children, also miraculously saved, at the time when their father, Yosef Landau, on the Shabbos of the selection, was sent to the left, that is, to Treblinka.
In the morning, after the frightful slaughter, Fabish gave further assurance that in the future nothing would happen to the women if they would go regularly to their labor and no longer steal. Understandably, since no one any longer trusted Fabish's assurances, the women went into hiding wherever they could and did not go to work.
Several days later, when people saw that those who went to work returned alive, sometimes with a bit of provisions that they found while cleaning the houses in the liquidated large ghetto, the women emerged from their hiding places and voluntarily went to work.
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
Various labor camps existed in our town and around it: small ones, where only few people worked, and larger ones, which would employ up to several hundred workers.
The most popular camps were:
|1.||Reckman for railroad equipment||about 200 workers|
|2.||Kissgrube stone and gravel excavation|| 150 |
|3.||Construction works|| 100 |
|4.||Army equipment camp|| 100 |
|5.||Ralnitche Syndicate|| 30 |
|6.||Glass works|| 60 |
|7.||Waste collecting station|| 59 |
|8.||Wolf & Goebel concrete works, roads|| 150 |
|9.||Railroad inspection & various railroad works|| 150 |
|10.||Air force works|| 100 |
|11.||General collection center and several smaller enterprises|
In some of these places, the German supervisors took their workers from the smaller ghetto, arranged for them living quarters in the local barracks and gave them their meals in a common kitchen.
The living conditions in the camps varied, according to the whims of the camp leaders and their wild and sadistic moods.
The general system and the overall goal was, however, the same everywhere: to extract from the Jewish slaves maximum work with minimum food and rest; to exploit their strength as fast as possible, that they would collapse as quickly as possible. This was the wish of the leader, the Führer, the initiator of the new order, and all the little führers of the camps were dedicated to helping realize the big plan. In some of the camps the plan was carried out slowly and gradually, step by step, while in others swiftly and brutally.
He bloodiest and most cruel of the labor camps in town, where hundreds of Jews from the small ghetto were tortured and killed, was the Reckman firm.
The central offices of the firm were in Berlin. The company's main business was building railroads and other transport means for the army, as well as dispatching ammunition transports to the East. Several hundred Jews worked in the Siedlce branch.
The special tactics of the company leaders concerning the Jews was to torment them through work and hunger until they died. Working without end, without a break, day and night, without food, without rest, along with cruel and continuous beating, the Jews would lay the rails, cut stones, carry heavy loads and unload the wagons. People became swollen and collapsed on the spot when their strength gave way. The dying would be pulled out of the way and finished off one by one, and in their place another person would be assigned right away, and then another and then another. There were enough Jews around too many, in fact. And, when all the Jews of this region would die, they will bring Jews from countries where there still existed some, for all of them must be used and their lives sacrificed for the new happy order that the Nazis would bestow on the world.
Yudel Ruzhowikwiatt, who had worked at Reckman's for some time, tells that the chief murderer, Reckman himself, would often boast that every morning before breakfast he must kill at least one Jew, otherwise he could not swallow his breakfast.
The healthiest and strongest person was not able to bear for more than several weeks the terrible conditions of hunger, hard work and beating that were commonplace in the Reckman camp. This was not a labor camp it was a death camp. No wonder that nobody wanted to work there. Thus every morning the messengers from the camp would enter the little ghetto and the terrible hunt began. Every person they put their hands on, even women and old people, knew that their horrible death sentence had been signed.
As a result of these tactics to wear down people through hunger, hard work and beatings daily the streets of Siedlce would witness groups of pale and emaciated Jews, in rags, pushing little carts full of other Jews, their faces pale green or yellow like wax, some of them swollen, with very weak signs of life; behind the procession would walk the German watchmen. The Jews in the carts were the workers that the Reckman Company sent back to the ghetto the tormented and dying Jews that they could not use any longer. They were done, and not needed.
As soon as the cart loaded with the living skeletons would enter the ghetto it was overturned as if it were a load of stones or sand. The wretched bodies would fall out and remain on the ground, unable to move.
The poor tormented Jews, who had pulled the cart and unloaded the dying people, were led by the watchmen back to Reckman's, to pay with their last drops of blood, until it was their own turn to be carted away by other unfortunate Jews, back to the ghetto. The only creatures that would pay any attention to the still living skeletons were the swarms of flies and worms.
It would happen sometimes, that one of the ghetto residents would furtively give one of the dying persons a piece of bread or a drop of water; seldom would the dying have enough strength left to extend his hand to receive it. It was too late for any help most of them died the same day.
Leibl Mandelbaum, who worked in this Reckman hell-camp, told his story:
I worked at digging up and cutting stones. The German supervisor would constantly push the workers, not giving them even a moment's rest. The portion of food we received all day was 80 grams of bread and a bowl of soup mostly plain water in which we would sometimes find a piece of rotten cabbage or some other vegetable. When I tried to take a few minutes' rest, the supervisor hit me with the shovel over my back so hard, that the shovel broke. I could not move, and Reckman himself, who witnessed the scene, permitted me to rest for one hour, after which I was driven back to work.
Mandelbaum ran away from the camp and went to the little ghetto. He was caught by a policeman and sent back to the Reckman camp and punished by 25 whippings. Several days later he ran off again, was caught and again punished by beating. Feeling that he was so weak that he would soon collapse anyway, he decided to risk everything and escaped for the third time this time with success. Finally he got rid of the Reckman Company.
Translated by Theodore Steinberg
No matter how difficult and bitter life was in these camps, these special places, it was like Eden in comparison to the life
led by those who remained in the small ghetto.
After a long day of hard work, beset by hunger, blows, and vast suffering, an unfortunate person collapsed in the evening behind the fence, almost done to death, starving and beginning to wonder where he could get something to still his hunger.
No one in the small ghetto thought about regular meals. There was no legal way to obtain necessities. Neither the controlling forces nor the work authorities gave such things a thought. Even if someone smuggled in some provisions, they cost so much that only a few could manage to purchase them. People regarded hunger as a normal thing that would last until they had fallen aside.
After fooling the stomach with a bit of water and some substitute for foodone went to sleep, so that one could arise in the morning to slavery. One would find a corner somewhere to lie on the ground, with the collar of his disintegrating clothing over his ears, and he wold try to fall into deeper forgetfulness so that he would neither feel nor hear what was going on around him.
Robbed of all of life's necessitiesthe unfortunate ghetto dweller was also robbed of sleep. Because of the crowding, so that people lay almost on top of each other, on the filth and on the mass of worms that overran the ghetto, as well as because of the constant shooting that the maddened Germans practiced all night to amuse themselves by shooting into the unfortunate clusters of Jews. The victims from this nighttime sport were collected in the morning by the Jewish police and taken for burial in the cemetery.
Beds, mattresses, and bedclothes no one had. They all remained in the large ghetto for the new inhabitants, or else they were stolen. Similarly, almost no one had any extra clothing. Almost no one had any extra supplies.
A particular plague in the small ghetto were the Roma. They had been settled in several two-story buildings that had belonged to Henech Goldfarb that were located in the middle of small wood ghetto houses. They stole from the Jews the last bits of their hidden supplies and then went to Fabish and to the Gestapo with reports
and accusations against their Jewish neighbors, which often led to the executions of Jews.
The city commander, Fabish, and Gestapo head Duba searched the small ghetto every day. After every visit by these two murderers, insane, sadistic proclamations were visited on the heads of the unhappy Jews, or they took with them several victims and a few hours later the Jewish police were summoned to bury the bodies. Generally when the police were summoned to Cuba or to Fabish, they took with them shovels and mattocks. They knew why they were being summoned.
The constant hunger in the small ghetto, the difficult slave labor, and the terrible crowding, the plague of filth, flies, and worms, the complete lack of medications and medical supervisionall of this brought illnesses and epidemics that slashed through the ghetto dwellers like a scythe. No day passed without the deaths of several victims.
In the center of the ghetto, in a muddy courtyard, stood an abandoned wooden pigsty. There in the pigsty, on the muddy ground, they laid out the dead.
Once a week, a large open wagon came to the pigsty. They threw the corpses that accumulated during the week onto the wagon. They were taken to the cemetery and buried in a common grave.
It often happened that s the bodies were being thrown onto the wagon, hands, feet, and other body parts would fall from having lain so long in the pigsty. It also happened that in the dark of night, some of the still-living dead would sneak into the pigsty and take the poor clothing of the dead to cover their own nakedness.
The complete lack of provisions, of the most basic necessities, greatly weakened the ghetto dwellers, so that many died as they went off to the labor.
Then again began the lapankes. Early every morning, as day was beginning, murderous bands of Germans, Sonderdienst, and police would fall upon the ghetto. They led a wild attack. They pulled out old and young, healthy and sick, as well as
women. They would beat and torment them mercilesslywith whips, rods, and rifle butts, driving them to labor.
A special wildness and barbarity was demonstrated by the murderers to their victims with the coming of the High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Succos. (In general, the Germans, throughout the time of their bloody rule, conducted actions, selections, denunciations, and other tormentsas much as possible on Shabbos and on holidays.)
People say that on that Yom Kippur in 1942 a group of exhausted Jews was assembled, including Yitzchak Nahum Weintraub, Itsche Meir Shochet, Ben-Zion Zucker, Shlomo Shmuel Abarbanel, Herzl and Nahum Halbershtadt, Henech Goldfarb, Kalman Friedman, and others, who, like the hidden Jews in Catholic Spain, used hidden cellars in the small ghetto to recite the Yom Kippur prayers with heartrending wails, but in the quietest voices possible (so that the enemy would not hear). Suddenly a fierce band of Germans burst in and began to seize the Jews for laborto unload munitions wagons for the commander.
When these ferocious man-beasts saw the broken, bent over Jews, with their taleisim around their pale yellow faces, they abandoned the young, healthier Jews, who would voluntarily have gone to the work. Instead they took the older people in their taleisim. That night, at the time of Ne'ilah, the old, worn out Jews were seen. Their pale faces were filthy, black from the gunpowder mixed with blood from the wounds that the murderers had given them during the labor.
The condition in the ghetto because of hunger, crowding, epidemics, and savage attacks on the one hand, and on the other the cessation of work outside the ghetto meant that the small number fo rescued Jews, along with the whole ghetto, would be liquidated. This meant that the3 Jewish Council, which had been liquidated together with the large ghetto, had to renew its activities and do something in this approaching fatal situation.
The three former Jewish Council members
who remained in the city were chosen for this work: Hersh Eisenberg (chair), Moshe Ratbeyn, and Anatol Goldberg.
The first job of the revived Jewish Council was to raise several thousand zlotys and pay off the bill that Fabish had imposed: to pay the firemen for their work on Shabbos, August 22, during the selektion.
The actual duties that the revived Jewish Council undertook were to stabilize the supply of bread at normal prices and to get the necessary medications for those confined in the ghetto. In various ways, in a short time these two obligations were carried out.
Fabish had ordered the city committee to distribute ration cards for the ghetto inhabitants. Gestapo head Duba had given the three aforementioned members of the Jewish Council passes to go into the city.
Thanks to these possibilities, they met with bakers about getting bread for the ghetto and with pharmacists about getting the necessary medications. They also had to arrange getting various articles that until then had been considered luxuries that were not available tot he ghetto residents, such as candles (there was no electricity), matches, washing powder, salt, and so on. And then that sophisticated hangman Fabish ordered that the Roma, who were situated in a large two-story house in the small ghetto should leave that building and transfer it to Jews.
In all of these instances, the sophisticated and well-thought out tactics of the Germans were obvious, how to lull the watchfulness of their victims, to blunt their sensitivity, so that the fresh blows that they were preparing would take them by surprise.
* * *
In the small ghetto there were almost no complete families. There were just torn limbs, lonely, solitary survivors of destroyed families. There were sons and daughters whose parents had been killed in front of their eyes or had been torn from them and sent to Treblinka; there were some whose children had been shot before their eyes; husbands of murdered wives; brothers whose sisters had been shot. There were none
who did not bewail relatives who had been killed by the bloody murderous beasts. All were depressed, broken, dejected and all wanted an accounting of their perilous situation; for the worthlessness of their lives, which anyone, whoever wanted, could destroy and then be rewarded for the act. Before their eyes, there remained the horrible images of the last days, of the mass slaughter at the liquidation of the large ghetto. And thenpeople clung to their empty lives and seized upon the last German pretenses the way a drinker might seize the blade of a sword. People made peace with their fate and began to accommodate to their horrible situation, to the new circumstances, as if to a normal situation. People began to consider how to make the best of things. Others strove to get reserves of provisions and heating supplies for the winter. Many strove to convince themselves that in any case nothing would happen in the small ghetto over the winter if only because almost everyone would be going to laborwhich the Germans desperately needed. They would not kill off the laborers that they needed.
The relentless tension disappeared. A fitful peace fell over the ghetto and lasted until the end of October.
This was a quiet before a terrifying, horrible storm, before the last, final storm in the ghetto.
The hard, cold winter began early, with rain, snow, and frostin that dark year of 1942.
It seemed as if nature itself had joined up with the bloody destroyers, stood by their side as an assistant to torture and plague the last remnant of unhappy Jews.
Just like three months ago, when the condemned community was driven out of the large ghetto to the Umschlagplatz and the bloody murderers had planned the wildest and most sophisticated kind of torture, brutality, and violenceso then the sun came to help them, burning and heating the victims without mercy; so now, too, when the remaining small remnant of the large community was
mired in the pain and crowding and filth of the small ghetto, without food, without warm clothing, without bedding, and without fuel for heatagain nature came to the aid of the torturers: in early fall, bizarre cold arrived. Heavy downpours of rain beat down like wet rods upon the ghetto and its inhabitants. Thick, heavy snow penetrated the wooden houses in the small ghetto. Through the cracks in the crooked, badly constructed doors and windows of the ghetto buildings and in the half-open stalls, attics, and cellars, where the weary shadows of people huddled, bitter colds winds blew like a great troop of demons into their weary bones and ate away at them, like hungry serpents.
Almost no one had warm clothing, a pair of underwear, a pair of shoes to put on, or a blanket for protection against the winter's cold. Anyone whom the Germans and Ukrainians had not robbed had long ago traded such things with his neighbors for a bit of bread or a few potatoes. Even less frequently did anyone have a bit of coal or wood to make a fire for warmth. The only way to get warmth was to huddle together in a group in their empty ghetto cots, in a pile, and so preserve with their own skin a little warmth that came from the weak, dried up and weary bodies.
People suffered in the horribly long, empty, sleepless nights. Hunger, filth, and cold tortured them; so, too, did the murderous Germans and Ukrainians who went about the ghetto savagely throughout the night and never stopped shooting at random; and they were tortured by their awareness of the unknowable, insecure tomorrow, of the uncertain fate that held them and from which they could see no exit.
After such empty, long, sleepless nights would come a no less empty day with its problems and worries, with its confusion and afflictions that poisoned their lives and turned men into plagued animals.
Every morning, while it was still completely dark outside, people had to stand there broken, frozen through, hungry, tugging
at ripped, filthy rags, barefoot, or nearly so, stamping in the cold, wet mud or snow, waiting for their hard labor and lacking the assuredness that they would return alive to the ghetto.
Thus the empty days and nights seemed like an eternity. Each day was more horrible and tragic than the one before.
The first days of November arrived. Strange rumors spread among the weakened ghetto inhabitants. Something seemed to be forthcoming, but no one knew what or when.
It was not long before people understood that the executioners were not idle. They had only one intention for the small number of Jews who remained yet alive.
As the few surviving witnesses testify, especially Mrs. Ida Tenenbaum-Yom Tov, this is how things happened in those days:
On November 1, the Germans issued an order that five large ghettos were to be created in Poland where all the surviving Jews from the General Government would be gathered. Siedlce belonged to one of the five.
By December 1, all the Jews in the surrounding cities, towns, and villages had to gather in Siedlce, in the small ghetto.
The Jews had a variety of interpretations of the new order. There were some how took them as a good sign. The remaining Jews would remain alive in the ghettos, surely because the Germans needed them for slave labor. Most, however, saw in the new orders a threat, a cunning plot by the sneaky murderers. With the creation of the five large ghettos, the Germans could assemble all the surviving Jews and all of the hidden Jews in concentrated areas, from which it would be easier and less expensive to send them to Treblinka.
Like a horrible eternity, the cold, dismal days and long, dark nights in the small ghetto dragged on. People waited for something, but they knew it was nothing good. The air bore an awful, tragic secret that no one could discern: to be or not to be?
Life or death? Was the end approaching or would things continue as they were? And could one survive?
Translated by Theodore Steinberg
On a cold, dark November morning, when the ghetto inhabitants rose, as they did every morning, from their hard, narrow ghetto cots and prepared to go out to their daily slave labor, they heard the latest news that the police brought from the German headquarters: that the small ghetto would be relocated in a smaller and filthier place outside the cityat Gensze-Barki.
Gensze-Barki lay three kilometers outside the city and consisted of three larger apartment blocs, which the city controllers had one set up between two bare, simple fields and there located people who were of doubtful character and with doubtful professions. The three blocs of houses were a nest for all kinds of thieves, fences, knife wielders, prostitutes, and a variety of underworld heroes from the city and its surroundings. It aroused in all the local working people a feeling of disgust and horror.
All the Jews from the small ghetto had to go there becauseaccording to what the killers saidtyphus ruled in the small ghetto and there was fear that the epidemic would move out into the streets surrounding the ghetto.
The transfer to Gensze-Barki was due to happen in several days, on the morning of November 25. People were only allowed to take with them what they could carry by hand.
The unfortunate ghetto inhabitants could only think of the curse of three months earlier, of the large ghetto, and they concluded that this meant a similar curse according to the way the Germans did things.
These unfortunates were overtaken by a terrible panic and confusion. In the ghetto were a number of children whom people, at great risk, had rescued and hidden. There were also many people who were old and ailing who could not make their way to Gensze-Barki and who would most certainly be shot as part of the curse. Where could they hide.?
There were also some who had other concerns. Those rare ones who still had or who had only recently obtained some bedclothes, clothing, or, even more vitally,a little food, a sack of potatoesthings that were in the ghetto a matter of life or deathhow could those things be saved?
There were still several days until the transfer to Gensze-Barki. The crafty murderers made no secret about it and spread the word. Some people tried to get things out of the ghetto. They would smuggle a package to a Christian that they knew, who took it with the understanding that the Jew would be killed and leave the package behind as an inheritance.
Near Gensze-Barki was a glass factory where several score of Jews worked. Some took the risk of bringing their last few possessions. On the last night, people even brought there some of the sick, old people and a few children. The Jewish workers hid them there. On the next morning they were going to move them to the living blocs of Gensze-Barki.
The Gestapo, the gendarmes, and other killers who watched over the ghetto knew what was going on. For a time they closed their eyes, acted as if they knew nothing, and the naive rejoiced in the thought that they were fooling the Germans.
* * *
The last frightful night in the small ghetto arrived. No one slept. Everyone was frightened. All were ruled by the question that tortured everyone, but no one could answer: Did the killers intend to settle this bunch of broken, tortured Jews in Gensze-Barki or was this just a distraction?
After that last painful night, which seemed to last for an eternity, came the terrible dayWednesday, November 25, 1942.
It was still dark outside when the police read out through the ghetto and sent everyone from their narrow cots into the street, formed them in the usual way into rows of five, hands together, and prepared them for the march.
A cutting wind hit their pale, pinched faces. A terrible cold ate at their bones and nibbled at their emaciated bodies,
but the people stood there without marching. They waited for the leaders of this bloody act.
At ten o'clock, the chief executioners arrivedFabish, Cuba, Fricka, and other assistants. They looked over the columns, took reports from their underlings, gave the last orders, and told the Jewish Council what, with great kindness, they were doing for the Jews: they had ordered the magistrate to send a few carts to convey the ill and to carry a bit of baggage.
At around noon came the order to march. A terrible wailing arose: all of the unemptied wells of tears that had remained concealed by the unfortunate ones suddenly opened and out stormed a terrible cry at the beginning of this march of shame. The whole unending mountain of pain and suffering that had gathered during the course of three and quarter years of bloody Nazi rule and made the unhappy Jews into what they now wereall of this broke through at this moment like a volcano, announcing its mighty protest and cry of woe that reached no one's ears. No one heard it, aside from the uncivilized, bloodthirsty killers, for whom the terrible cries of woe and wailing prompted a sadistic pleasure. Also, the neighbors on the Aryan side, who lived in the surrounding streets, through the windows of the warm homes looked on it allperhaps with pleasure.
Only the bitter, cold, troubling wind that unceasingly hit and thrashed the pale, troubled faces of the beaten, despairing Jewish skeletons carried off the terrible wailing and bore it far away
* * *
The shameful march of these human shadows took a long time. This train of the living dead took a long time. Some said that they were going to Gensze-Barki. Others said that they were going to Kalushin, where a new work camp for Jews was being formedthis was the way that led there. But instinct said that the murderers intended neither Gensze-Barki nor Kalushinthey intended something else. They meant to drive out the life of the remaining oppressed Jews. They would be beaten and oppressed under the heavy burden of disgrace
and woe, of helplessness and resignation. People walked in despair and weariness with their last strength. Those who could still think wondered what the murderers were about, what lay under the mask of Gensze-Barki.
And what a wonder! The murderers armed with rifles, revolvers, and whips led the train of shame and surrounded it on all sidesand they also went slowly. They did not rush, and they drove the human shades with no special ferocity. They were satisfied with verbal abuse, curses, and mild blows. From time to time, as if from habit, they would shoot over the heads of the terrified mass of people just to remind them of their status. There were no particular victims on the road.
Before the evening, the procession reached Gensze-Barki.
And again a wonder! The three blocs of houses stood open, without any fencing, without even a police guard.
Many people went to neighboring villages to buy something to eat from the peasants and straw for bedding. No one bothered them. The murderers had withdrawn a little. People breathed more freely. A feeling of hope arose in those who still had the will to live: perhaps they would be left alone. Things seemed good.
* * *
Once again the killers employed their proven tactics, which had truly become a system in their devilish plansbefore a mass attack and a mass slaughter of the defenseless Jews, to seem to relax a bit the turning of the hard, bloody screws of murder, thereby confusing the victims, distracting them and reducing their watchfulness and sensitivity.
And as always in such situations, events did not allow for a pause.
Early in the morning of Thursday, November 26, the work office of the district council issued an order that all Jews who lived at their workplaces both inside and outside of the city must by December 1 go to the new cities of refugethat is, Gensze-Barki. Only Jews with a special permit from the Gestapo could after that date be found outside the confines of Gensze-Barki.
From the whole surrounding area, from all the towns and villages, groups of
Jews began to arrive in Gensze-Barki, where the police who had escorted them turned them over to the hands of the Germans and Ukrainians. They were together with the Jews who had been brought from the small ghetto, stuffed together into a single bloc that had been emptied of the Roma who had lived there.
No provisions, especially bread from the city, were provided. There was not even water. The only wells that were in the district, where the Roma had lived, could not provide enough water for all, and the Roma seized the wells as their own and would not allow the Jews to fetch water.
A few Jews who had gone to a nearby village to buy something to eat did not return. They were murdered there by the peasants, who had robbed them and buried them behind a fence.
All of these things were signs of the approaching storm. People heard the steps of the angel of death and the flapping of the wings of death.
* * *
As the surviving witnesses tell us, the storm arrived on the unhappy night of Shabbos, the 28th to the 29th of November (the 20th of Kislev 5703).
That night was horribly cold. There was frost and a blizzard such as seldom occurred in Poland. It seemed as if the whole cold north would take part in the bloody partnership and so had sent its representatives, the heavy frost and the snowy wind to help torture the beaten down Jews in their last days, before they would be killed by the murderers.
The unhappy victims huddled together in the icy, filthy, and stinking rooms in the housing bloc that the Roma had left. The horrible crowding (three thousand beings in a single building), the horrifying cold, and the bizarre darkness brought them all together in a single mass.
They had long ago become accustomed to going without normal sleep, especially in the long nights of the last week when they wavered between life and death and thought that every minute would bring the worst, most frightful things.
And suddenly, like hosts of devils, those well-known bloodthirsty beings, in the form of the Gestapo, the gendarmes, the Polish police, and specially appointed Ukrainian Sonderdienst bandits all arrived. They formed an iron ring around Gensze-Barki, and especially the building where the unfortunate Jews were huddled together. Like hungry wolves they threw themselves on the unfortunate victims with wild screams, unceasing shooting, and vicious blows, creating a total confusion and tumult, forcing everyone out into the dark, freezing night.
The murderers ordered them to sit on the ground, on the snow and ice. The suffering people sat there for half the night. Over their bowed heads, the killers shot various weapons. And the bitter cold wind never let up from striking the pale yellow, drained faces and cutting like sharp knives into their skin and the drained bones of these human shades.
After many hours of sitting on the frozen ground, the murderers ordered them to stand in rows for a march, in the usual way, five in a column, right next to each other.
Many of the victims at this point could not stand and they remained lying immobile, stiff, frozen to the hard earth. Many, having been shot, lay there in a congealing pool of blood and in the dark were stomped upon by the military boots of the bloody murderers and by the feet of their oppressed fellows.
The unfortunates stood ready to march, on their last way, but they were not allowed to. They heard that at the train station, no wagons were waiting. The killers held a short conference and then ordered everyone back into the rooms of the building, without permission to go from one room to another, to move, to speak, or to look through the windows.
While they were going back into the building, many died from blows and shots from the murderers. The three thousand people were stuffed back into the crowded rooms, massed together, to pass the rest of the dark, empty night, ruled only by the angel of deaththe Germans and their helpers.
For the whole of Sunday, November 29, these unfortunates
remained without a piece of bread or a drop of water.
During the day, more groups of Jews were brought to Gensze-Barki, those who worked in more distant labor camps. They were turned over to the bloody fangs of the Germans and Ukrainians. With murderous ferocity they, too, were stuffed into the overcrowded rooms of the single housing bloc.
For the whole day, the Germans never ceased going wildshooting, hacking, beating, torturing the victims, even for looking through the windows.
Hoda Vaserburg recounts: The murderers took out a group of Jews and shot them. They took out another group of Jews and ordered them to bury those who had been shot, then they shot them. They dragged out other Jews, forced them to bury those who had been shot and so on. This wild bacchanalia lasted the whole time that Gensze-Barki was being besieged.
Hersh Eisenbergthe head of the renewed Jewish Council in the small ghettowas shot behind the wall of the housing bloc, together with his wife Rachel, the daughter of Ephraim Tzelnik, and their young daughter Chanale. The Germans suspected that they would escape
As was always the case in such situations, when it came to torturing, robbing, and murdering Jews, so this time, too, the Polish police did not lag behind their German and Ukrainian colleagues. The leader of the police, Jankowski, saw that this was the last day for the Jews, just one more dayand done He squeezed in the packed rooms, called for Avraham Bresler, the vice-commander of the Jewish police, with whom he had had personal dealings. Jankowski led Bresler out behind the wall and shot him.
Another Polish policeman called out an employee of the work office of the Jewish Council, Yosef Sadownik, and shot him.
In this way the murderers entertained themselves with the unfortunate victims for the whole of Sunday.
When night arrived, many of the unfortunate victims, who had been massed by the doors and windows, made a last, desperate attempt to escapethey had nothing
to loseby jumping through the doors and windows into the darkness of the night. They tried to get through the blockade of fire and death. But only a few merited success. Most fell to the murderers' bullets.
The desperate attempt of the victims to jump through the doors and windows provided the barbaric murderers an opportunity to redouble their devilish efforts, and with the greatest ferocity and bloodthirstiness they took vengeance on the unfortunates. They rampaged throughout the night. The grounds of Gensze-Barki were covered with hundreds of victims.
During the last period, when Gensze-Barki was surrounded by a troop of murderers and everyone knew that the end of the small ghetto had arrived, the end for the last remnant of Jews in Siedlce, many who were weary no longer had the strength nor the inclination nor the will to continue fighting so hard for their poor, bare lives, to bear any longer the awful sorrows and pains, the suffering and shamethey no longer waited for their tragic end, for the tragic epilogue. They ended their own lives in a variety of waysby taking potassium cyanide or other means to freedom, as they were called.
We have been told about the couple Yakov Sonschein and his wife Tchipa (the daughter of Aharon Yablon) that in the last hours of Gensze-Barki, they gave their one-year-old daughter Rochele to their Christian friends, Tchipa's school friends Sophia Alaszkowska and Jadwiga Zawaduka. The mother wrote some tragic, heartrending words on post cards for the child, and with potassium cyanidewhich their Christian friends had providedthe young couple ended their lives.
Of the many others who in those last tragic hours ended their lives, nothing remains. We do not even know who they were. We know only that their bodies mixed with those who had been killed by the Germans, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, and Polish murderers. They were left in the emptied rooms and outside on the grounds of Gensze-Barki. They were left in wild confusion by the bloody killers, a frightful mass. They were frozen stiffly to the ground. Their poor clothing and shoes were ripped off
by the thieving Roma who took over the two remaining blocs. The naked bodies lay abandoned for a long time on the grounds of Gensze-Barki and served as food for the wild crows and hungry dogs. Then someone ordered their remains to be collected and taken to the cemetery, where they were laid out and covered with layers of sticks in a pyre and then all burned. Later on, a bitter wind came and spread their ashes in all directions, leaving not a trace behind.
|The last bitter smile|
|Mrs. Tchipa Yablon-Sonschein's farewell with her daughter Rochele before taking potassium cyanide|
|Taking the old and the ill to Gensze-Barki|
Sitting, right to left: Mendel Liveront, Shmuel Zucker, Yitzchak Nahum Weintraub, kVelvel Barg, Shmerl Greenberg, Noson David Glicksberg
Translated by Theodore Steinberg
Early Monday, November 30, the suffering victims were again forced outside. They were arranged in columns and the march began, the horrible tragic march of the last Jews of Siedlce on their final road.
There were no more illusions about the deceitful, hidden work camps, that at first the murderers had presented to their victims. All now knew their fate, that they were going on their final road. The road that led to the gas chambers of Treblinka. The executioners hid nothing now. Nothing was kept in secret. They spoke openly and cynically about where their victims were headed. Everyone recognized the road they were on. This was the highway that led back to the city, to the train station, to the death wagons.
Three and a quarter years of life under Nazi domination was enough so that the unfortunates were psychologically and consciously half dead, atrophied, apathetic, and indifferent, so that they allowed themselves to be driven like oxen to slaughter. Only a little of their physical strength remained, which allowed them to proceed to their unseen gravesto the never satisfied, bloodthirsty Moloch.
Like a funerala large, unending funeralso went the tragic march of the last remnant of Siedlce's Jews. They marched, these half-dead people, in their own funeral. At the head of this funeral procession went the lion of the fellowshipthe old Rabbi Yitzchak Nahum Weintraub, the oldest dignitary, who for half a century had served his community heart and soul,
never abandoning the last remnant of his community even now, act the edge of the grave. He walked standing fully upright, proudly, with burning eyes. His pale yellow face flamed in spots with holy fire and wrath. The silver-white hair of his head and beard were now even whiter. His blue lips barely moved as he whispered something quietly, so quietly. He was always accustomed, this little old man, R. Yitzchak Nahum, to speak to his community, to say something to his brothers at every opportunity when they were gathered together. It made no difference whether it was a public holiday, a Yom Tov, or a meeting of the community council, or a gathering in the shul to mark the anniversary of Herzl's death. He was always ready to explain to his community a word of Gemara, a midrash, or a chapter of Tanach that related to the matter at hand. So, too, in the last moments of his life and the life of his community, he had something to say. Except that he would arouse the murderers, he would have interrupted the march and explained and expounded to his congregation the great meaning of martyrdom, according to the Torah and to the Talmudic sages, according to the early and late commentators. But the murderers forced him to be silent and to whisper to himself quietly what he could not say openly to his people. He led by the hand his beloved great-grandchildthe only one who remained to himthe little son of Yosef Landau.
Around him went the old ones who had escaped all of the slaughters to this point: R. Itsche Meir Shochet, R. Ben-Zion Zucker, R. Shlomo Shmuel Abarbanel, R. Kalman Friedman, R. Hence Goldfarb, the brothers R. Nahum and R. Herzl Halbershtam, R. Yitzchak Kagan, and others. This group of elders were dressed in white kitties and taleisim. It seemed as if the old leader, together with these elders, led the rest of the community to a huge celebration, for a sacred purpose.
Over their heads were dark gray clouds that covered everything, darkening the heavens, throwing dark shadows on the whole scene and enveloping them in a large black hearse, where the unfortunate half-corpses went on their last funeral procession.
Over the bowed heads of these unfortunates, across the whole dark gray sky, flew hosts of black crows, flapping their wings and crying out: Caw! Caw!
The bare, green-black poplars and willows that lined both sides of the highway on which the funeral procession traveled stretched out their long branches and sticks like whips against the marching victims, whipping and driving them on.
The sharp, cutting wind laughed devilishly, blew horribly, slapped the unfortunates and forced them to move more quickly, more quicklyas if they would be late for something.
At the little windows of the village houses that were thrown up on the highway, the colored curtains were moved aside and the amazed eyes of Poland's sons and daughters looked at the passing wonder.
* * *
Before noon the funeral procession arrived at the edge of the city, to Warsaw Street. B the train factory the train had made a turn to the left. It was taken to the warehouse of the kerosene business Falmin, but there were still no wagons.
The frost burned and a wild wind cut and whipped without mercy, tearing at everyone. The earth was covered with a thick layer of snow and ice. The bloody sadists used this last chance that blind, ferocious nature had provided them to torture their unfortunate victims by forcing them to sit down on the frozen ground.
As the elders sat on the snow and ice in their white kitties and taleisim and huddled together against the terrible cold, their leader R. Yitzchak Nahum Weintraubas Leib Mandelbaum tells ittook out from his bosom a flask of brandy with a glass, poured some in honor of his neighbors, the other elders. Each offered the others a L'Chaim for their trip to the next world, where they were being sent by the bloody executions, and they wished them a dark fate.
This awful suffering lasted for several hours. Finally in the evening the transport arrived with the death wagons. The unfortunates were stuffed into them with the greatest ferocity and bloodthirstiness.
The Jewish police discarded their hats and other police insignia and wanted to board the wagons along with all
the other unfortunate victims, but the executions did not allow them to thanks to their loyal service and aid in liquidating the ghettos, for which they deserved a special death. They received their wagon in the death train.
The doors of the wagons were slammed shut. In a frightfully wild way the locomotive panted and pulled away with the transport of the last Jews on their final journeyin the direction of Treblinka.
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