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[Page 648]

The Destruction of Siedlce

Ida Yom-Tov (Tenenbaum)

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

The Arrival of the Germans and the First Suffering of Persecution

On September 12, 1939, Siedlce was seized by the Germans, who arrived from East Prussia. In the first days of the month of October, the Germans began their murderous work—they seized Jews, and even non-Jews, and with beatings with clubs and sticks, without food and without a drop of water, forced them on foot to Wegrow. Those who thus suffered, young and old, were forced to go with their hands held high. In Wegrow the Germans left the older people and forced the younger further, to the camps in East Prussia. The year 1940 was filled with kidnappings for labor and people being sent to the camps, with forced “contributions” and enclosures, along with other kinds of oppression and suffering.

At the beginning of 1941, the S.S. man Fabish was named as commissar of the city. He was a bandit, a murderer, and a madman rolled into one. If we lived in orderly terror until 1941, now life literally hung by a thread. Fabish's first undertaking was the establishment of a ghetto. With others of Hitler's “highly-placed personnel,” one could sometimes bargain with money, jewelry, furs, and beautiful clothing for their wives and girlfriends. But one could not discuss anything with Fabish. As far as that German was concerned, the Jews were not living creatures. Jewish property he held as his own, and under the pretext of the government's requirements, he stole whatever he wanted. Jews

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also were forced to set up a brothel, at their own expense, located in a Jewish house at 11 Pulaski Street.

At the beginning of November, 1941, the ghetto was established. Leaving the ghetto was punishable by death. Hunger ruled in the ghetto, along with typhus, which spread easily because of the crowded lodgings. Just as people were kidnapped for work, so the fear of death seized all hearts. Terrible news about barbaric deportations and murders reached us, but it was not believed. People comforted themselves with the thought that the Germans would not destroy such a reservoir of laborers as occupied the ghetto.

Every day, 1500 workers left the ghetto, aside from the regular workers who had personal permissions to leave—they labored at specific jobs. Siedlce was truly a center for transport to the Russian front. The need for workers grew every day. Workers were brought in from surrounding towns, which strengthened our hopes of remaining alive. Meanwhile, though, the terror increased. The Gestapo became more severe. Every day at the gates of the ghetto there were executions.

 

Terror, Murder, and Death-Wagons

Whoever fell into the hand of the Gestapo, for whatever reason, never returned home alive. First came examinations with the help of rods. After “guilt” was “established,” a sentence was issued, though the condemned were not informed of it. In the evening, between 10 and 11, the condemned were led to the gates of the ghetto, at 11 Listopad, or Torgowa. They were told to run toward the gates and were shot from behind. Every evening, those who lived in the neighboring houses were disturbed by shots, and early every day the Jewish police gathered up the bodies.

Fourteen thousand Jews were shut up in the Siedlce ghetto, and the bosses over life and death for the Jews were:

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The city commissar—S.S. Man Fabish; head of the Gestapo, Dube; and the work chiefs Zorga and Sonntag.

On August 20, the Jewish Council received an order from the Work Office to send several score of workers to offload a train in the station. It could go no further because of a burned axle. Rumors spread in the ghetto that in the wagon there were Jews from Radom. The only Jew from Radom in the ghetto was among the workers—Heniek Adler. The picture that confronted the the workers was a portent of the fate that awaited the Jews of Siedlce in the near future. This wagon was part of the “death train” that took Jews to Treblinka, but because of the burned axle, it could not proceed to its destination.

When the workers opened the wagon, they confronted a hundred dead bodies, squeezed together, one on top of the other. All had died from heat, from lack of air, and from the smell of lime that was spread out across the wagon's floor.

Under the clubs of the S.S. convoy, the workers had to unload the wagon. The corpses were taken to the Jewish cemetery and buried. Heniek Adler from Radom recognized among them many whom he had known. This incident firmly undercut the rumors that the Germans had spread that those tortured in the wagon were prisoners who were being taken from one prison to another.

Consequently the fear of the inevitable end grew in the ghetto. Reports that arrived from other cities showed the Germans were carrying out a barbaric extermination of the Jews. On Friday, August 21, 1942, we heard about the aktion that took place in Minsk-Mazowieck, 40 kilometers from Siedlce. We already knew about the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto that began on July 22, but the liquidation of Minsk-Mazowieck caused a terrible panic for us.

The Jewish Council, headed by Dr. Henryk Loebel, reassured people that in Siedlce “it would not happen.”

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A big Jewish center like Warsaw could not be sustained, but Siedlce would be spared because of its great work productivity (3,000 workers were employed daily)—in this way the Jewish Council repeated the lies of the Germans in Siedlce. Even on that terrible day, when the liquidation of the ghetto in Siedlce began, August 21, 1942, the people on the Jewish Council assured us, in the name of the Germans, that nothing was happening. There was then an order from Himmler not to proceed with the destruction of the ghettos. This stratagem worked to pacify the ghetto for several hours.

 

The Extermination Aktion Begins

In the evening, the workers who were employed outside of the ghetto returned to their homes, bringing the news that the Polish police, the so-called grenade police from Pilsudski faction, who worked for the Germans, were called to an assembly at 3 in the morning. The news spread like lightning throughout the ghetto and left no one with any illusions. We all knew what that meant. The distress and panic grew larger in the ghetto every minute. Some people sought hiding places. Some packed their bags, under the delusion that they could escape. Most people, however, were resigned to the fact that the situation was inescapable—we were all condemned to death.

That night—this was Friday night, the 21st to 22nd of August, the ghetto was surrounded by thick squads of Gestapo, gendarmes, special service men, and Polish police. Soon shots were heard and the first victims fell—people who had tried to get out through the fence around the ghetto. In the morning, the shooting increased. At 7 in the morning, as usual, the Jewish police gathered in order to receive their “daily orders.” Gestapo men arrived. They were delighted with the orderliness of the police and issued a command: to gather in the square of the burned synagogue all the Jews, without regard to age or illness. Whoever did not obey by 9 o'clock

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was condemned to death. The Jewish police carried out the orders of the Gestapo. They spread through the ghetto and called out the orders of the Germans.

 

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The burned synagogue

 

In the square by the burned synagogue the Jews gathered. Many came with baggage. They believed that they were being sent elsewhere. At the same time, the various German bandit groups—S.S. men, special services, extermination squads, Germans, Ukrainians, and Lithuanians robbed and murdered every Jew they encountered in a dwelling. Pszetsszecki and Goldblatt were shot in their own homes. The number of Jews in the square grew larger. New groups arrived with panic in their eyes, driven on by the Germans who attacked their victims with shots and whips. Dead bodies of teenagers and children lay on the sidewalk. Living children also lay abandoned on the sidewalk. Across from the Umschlagplatz [assembly point] was the building of the Jewish hospital. The dead were left lying as a warning to others. The wounded had a different fate. Commissar Fabish said the hospital and the doctors would remain and take care of the wounded.

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Suddenly the number of people in the square increased. There were now about 12,000, but that was not everyone. The Germans, with their helpers, ransacked the homes, spreading death and destruction and driving people to the square with whips. The Jews from the so-called “Three Corners,” from that part of the ghetto composed of the following streets: 1th of November, Sokolow, and Oslonawicz—were gathered into a courtyard by one of the houses and shot by the “special services.”

In the square itself, where the 12,000 Jews had gathered at the command of the Gestapo, the Germans carried out bestial murders. Several Gestapo men sat on the sidewalk and occupied themselves by shooting—at Jewish heads. Whoever raised his head got a bullet. Other Germans sought out old Jews with beards, dragged them out of the crowd, and made them sing, dance, jump around , and then struck the heads of their unfortunate victims with the handles of their revolvers or shot at them—such sadistic entertainment the Germans had at the Jews's expense as they led them to death. Dr. Henryk Loebel arrived at the square, the Elder of the Jews. He was also the chief doctor in the Jewish hospital. The Germans wanted to leave him so that he could stay at his post in the hospital, but he refused and came to the square so that he could accompany the members of his community.

The Jews stayed in the square for three hours. They had to remain lying down. Anyone who raised his head was shot. There were about 300 dead, aside from the wounded. The Germans ordered the Jewish police to accompany them to Jewish dwellings to see if there were any Jews. The police carried out the Germans' commands. In the afternoon, the commander of the Jewish police received an order to prepare lunch for 15 people. Each one should get a chicken with wine. The Jew murderers would eat lunch, while those condemned to death had to serve them. Soon after this order, the Obergruppenfuhrer” of the S.S. arrived and ordered that he should be given two pairs of silk socks. He was quickly given this gift.

The “Umschlagplatz,” where 12,000 condemned to death lay, and near them hundreds of the murdered and wounded, was transformed into a macabre entertainment. On the other

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side of the fence, on Pilsudski Street, stood many Poles who watched the slaughter of Jews.

 

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Germans entertain themselves by pulling the beards of Siedlce's Jews.
In the middle is Shachna Rubinstein (from Sokolow).

 

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Nachum the water carrier, Sholem Bronfnmacher's son-in-law
  #1—Yisrolke, the chazan and mohel.
#2—Yidl Tzenerkop.
#3—Yehoshua-Feivush, the sexton of the Tailors' Shul.

 

Among the Germans there was a special group who

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filmed this Jewish spectacle. In the middle of the street, the mass murderers set up a table and, in the midst of the dead and the half-dead, celebrated a cannibalistic meal. The photographers and film makers brought their equipment close up to the unfortunate victims so that their images would be precise.

 

The Selection for Life and Death

The head of the extermination command called Dr. Loebel and ordered him to distribute this order: “All able-bodied men from 15 to 45 years of age must present themselves and run the gauntlet.” Dr. Loebel delivered the order and all the men presented themselves and proceeded through the ranks of Germans, who hit each one with the butts of rifles, with sticks, and with whatever else they had in their hands. They were especially fierce with Jews who tried to identify themselves with work certificates or with passes for German work projects. Whoever showed the smallest scrap of paper received murderous blows until he expired. The only passport that earned going to the right, that is, to the working groups, was—torn clothing and hands with calluses.

Without any process, “the elder of the Jews,” Dr. Henrik Loebel, and the leader of the work office of the Jewish Council, Ezriel Friedman, passed through. A few days later, the head of the Gestapo, Dube, shot Dr. Loebel together with the hospital personnel and Friedman at a gate at the corner of First of May and Torgowa Streets. Among those being sent to Treblinka, the Germans placed the long-time clerk of the Jewish community organization and secretary of the Jewish Council, Hersz Tenenbaum. As secretary, Tenebaum had saved not a single Jew from the claws of the Gestapo. In the name of the Jewish Council, he also obeyed every German command and satisfied their needs. Now, at the selection for who would live and who would die, everyone envied the Jewish Council secretary, because his familiarity with the Germans would “save” him. The Gestapo put him on the first transport to Treblinka.

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At the time of the selection it became clear to everyone that older men and women and children were beyond the bounds of life. Some ended their lives right on the spot. Mrs. Dr. Pfau poisoned herself with potassium cyanide. Others cut their wrists and waited to bleed to death. There was no end to the suffering of the unfortunates. Every couple of hours, Fabish ordered the firemen to spray the square full of people.

At 5 o'clock, the group of about 1500 chosen people was herded into a demarcated “triangle,” which was guarded by the “special services,” Polish police were prepared to take over the “selected.” A minute after the work-group departed, the shooting began with redoubled force. Dr. Loebel had not gone into the “triangle,” but into the hospital, which was a hundred meters from the Umschlagplatz and had been ready to help the people. The hospital aides, dressed in white, gathered together the wounded and also the unwounded. They put white uniforms on some and thus saved them. Finally, permission was given to the Jewish police to give drinking water to the unfortunates. Despite all these efforts, very few people were able to leave the square.

 

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In this outhouse, they shot the rabbi from the butcher's beis-medresh. Nr. 1—The crate containing the rabbi's body. Standing are Yontl Goldman and two Polish children. Note: Our fellow citizen Yontl Goldman took care of the burial of the murdered in Siedlce. In this way he served many.

 

Throughout the night from Shabbos until Sunday, the Germans

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went wild in the ghetto looking for those in hiding, robbing, and burning. During that night they shot in the ghetto 200 people whom they rousted from hiding places. The German associates of the “special services” shot 30 who were hidden in Yankel's bakery. Among those shot were the family of Yankel the baker. On the premises of the mikveh, about 50 people were shot. In the office of the Jewish Council about 20 were shot, and under it the family of Ephraim Zelnick.

Early on Sunday they began to clear the dead from the street. The “selected group” from the “triangle” conducted the work under the leadership of Rubinstein, the commander of the Jewish police. The collection of the dead proceeded in the following way: two people were hooked up to a wagon and dragged it through the streets, while others piled up the bodies. When the wagon was full, it was taken to the gate of the ghetto and there Polish wagoners transferred the dead into their wagons and and took them to the Jewish cemetery. In this terrible work, a few hidden people managed to escape. They came out from their hiding places, ran to the wagons, and after doing the work, went with the others to the “triangle, which was already called “the little ghetto.”

For two days and two nights the unfortunate ones lay in the square. During the day they were tortured by the heat and the constant fear of death from the infernal shooting. First thing Monday morning, the Gestapo took the first group to the baggage station and there packed them into the death wagons. The route for the death train was short: Siedlce to Treblinka, 35 kilometers. So it went for two days. On Monday and Tuesday, there was transport after transport. The last left on Wednesday morning. In the wagons, covered with uncollected waste, 100-120 people were packed. The packing of the wagons was aided by rifle butts, axes, and other blunt instruments. Many fell by the wagons. Shmuel Leviton was struck in the head with an axe by a Ukrainian. The Polish police did not hold back from beating and robbing. Many dead were taken from the wagons to the cemetery

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and buried there in a single grave—the dead with the wounded who were still alive.

 

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The last road to the baggage station.
Nr. 1—Binyamin Kramarsh.

 

transport there was no one bold enough to jump from the wagons. Later on, people jumped from the transports. People broke boards from the wagons and jumped out. The German guards who escorted the train shot. Many fell dead or were wounded and later were beaten either by the police or by the peasants. The train line from Siedlce to Treblinka was littered with the dead and wounded. A few people managed to get back to the city and fled to the “small ghetto.”

 

In the “Small Ghetto.”—The Shooting of the Hospital Personnel

In the “small ghetto” the “selected” workers took to organizing their lives. A strong Gestapo unit guarded the ghetto. On Monday the “extermination unit” left Siedlce. In the now-emptied large ghetto, the German army continued to go wild: they searched for hidden Jews and emptied out the dwellings. Due to the large reduction in German strength and the bribing of Polish police, a few hidden Jews managed

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to get to the “small ghetto.” No women were allowed there, only men. The rescued women, therefore, dressed in men's clothing. Many spent all their days in the attics, fearing that they would be recognized by the Gestapo, who kept close watch on the “small ghetto.” Their fate in the future was a tragic question: what would happen if the German army would capture them: would they be “stood up against the wall” or would they be allowed to continue their painful lives?

Despite their horrible, bloody Gehenna, despite the pools of blood in the streets and the constant traffic to the Jewish cemetery of the shooting victims, and although their lives had lost all value—the inhabitants of the “small ghetto” wanted to live. Things went so far that several small children who had been brought into the “triangle” were suffocated because their existence could betray the women who were hidden there and could lead to the liquidation of the rest of the “selected ones.”

By Wednesday, the large ghetto was still not completely empty. Found there were: the Jewish hospital with 60 patients, 4 doctors, 2 surgeons, nurses, aides, and those rescued from the Umschlagplatz—altogether about 100 people. Aside from the hospital and those people whose existence was permitted by the German powers, there were also in the ghetto some hidden people. Cut off from the world, lacking food, and living in fear of death, they waited with faith—perhaps they could be eventually be rescued.

After sending out the final transport to Treblinka, a unit of Ukrainians came to the hospital courtyard under Fabish's command. He gave an order calling all hospital personnel immediately to the courtyard. All came: Dr. Henryk Loebel with his wife and son; Dr. Leon Glazowski, Dr. Shoal Shwartz, Dr. Shlomo Tenenbaum; two old and veteran surgeons—Josef Alberg and Yankel Tenenbaum; the oldest nurses—Fella Friedman and Edusha Alberg; the laboratory personnel—Lola Saltzman with her mother and sister; the staff, among whom were Tzesha Temkin, Dora Goldblatt, Sala Rabinowicz, and Bronka Shoferman.

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After this order to the hospital personnel, the S.S. men shot the patients who lay in their beds, including some newborns. Later on, the S.S. murderers shot the hospital personnel with handguns. The first to be shot was Dr. Loebel with his wife. Their son tried to escape in the hospital garden, and he found a hiding place. He hid for a year and a half, but finally he was discovered by the gendarmes and was shot. After Dr. Loebel, all the other hospital workers were shot. Their warm bodies, in their white and bloody hospital coats, were taken through the streets to the Jewish cemetery. Their blood dripped from the wagons and showed the path that they took.

 

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The wagon taking corpses to the cemetery

 

Besides the doctor's son, from the hospital personnel the lab worker Lola Saltzman also escaped. She was lightly wounded by the shots and lay with the dead bodies of her mother and sister. When the murderers were gone, she left the hospital courtyard and snuck into the “small ghetto.”

In the small ghetto, a “normal” life was established. The hard reality, the tragic conditions, and the difficult

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labor so dulled the people that they could not think about nor imagine anything else.

 

Hard Work, Suffering, and Death

The Germans encouraged the illusion that people would be allowed to live. Commissar Fabish gave assurance that if people went regularly to their labor, the “small ghetto” would be sustained. To reinforce the illusion, the women who had hidden in the large ghetto were given an amnesty. The women were given a special task: to go every day into the large ghetto. There they would go through the empty houses and put the things they found in order. The next day, 30 women were led under the watch of Polish police to their job. In the evening they were taken by cars to the Jewish cemetery and there were shot on the pretext that they had stolen clothing from the abandoned homes and put them on. Among those shot was the wife of the lawyer Landau. She left behind two small children.

 

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The wall where they shot the 30 women.
Yontel Goldman points with his finger to the wall.

 

After this mass murder of women, Fabish assured people that if the women would not steal, they would face no

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danger. But this assurance reassured no one. The women refused to go to this labor. The police sought them out and forced them to go. After a couple of days, when the women returned from the work alive and they were permitted to bring with them leftover items from the empty houses—the women were reconciled with doing the work.

Several German undertakings took their workers from the “small ghetto.“ They put them in barracks and established for them communal kitchens. Thus it was in the area of Siedlce, so that it was like several score of small work camps, among which the smallest numbered several persons, and the largest, several hundred. The living conditions in the larger and smaller camps were not at all alike. They depended on the direction of the overseer of each camp.

Life in the camps was generally difficult, but in comparison to the lives of the workers in the “small ghetto” it was an “oasis” of peace and well-being. In the “small ghetto,” each person, after a hard day at work, came home dead tired and had to scrounge for food. No one could even think about regular meals. There was no official supply of food in the ghetto. The powers in charge and the employers gave no thought to that. The food that people smuggled into the ghetto went for such high prices that only those who had been paid could afford it. So people starved; the starving people lay down to “sleep”—that is, they stuffed themselves into a corner and wrapped their collars around their ears so they could not hear what was going on.

People had long given up on a good night's sleep. The terrible crowding and the constant shooting at the ghetto fence did not allow it. The victims of this “sport” were collected each morning by the police. The crowding in the dwellings was so bad that on the average there were 20 to 30 people in a mid-size room. The room would be full of people—no beds, cots, or bedding were available. The attics, stairways, and

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basements also served as living spaces. The whole small ghetto consisted of wooden houses, only two of which had a single story. In the “small ghetto” there were also Roma. The Germans put them into two buildings, one with one story and one with two. The Roma stole from the Jews their last bits of poverty that they had brought from the large ghetto and they informed on the Jews to Fabish and to the Gestapo.

Commissar Fabish and Dube, head of the Gestapo, often visited the ghetto. They came every day. Their visits ended either with sadistic beatings of “chosen” workers or with the seizure of people who a few hours later would have to be buried by the Jewish police. When Fabish summoned Jewish police, they brought with them spades and shovels, because they knew what Fabish wanted of them.

Hunger and need so weakened the people that they had no strength left for work. The Germans therefore ordered seizures. Early every morning, at about 5:30, a group of police, soldiers, and special service men would fall upon the ghetto and the hunt would begin. Dragged to the courtyard were the old, the young, the healthy and the ill. They were beaten and tortured, and even the women were not spared.

 

The Jewish Council in the “Small Ghetto” and Its Activities

In the “small ghetto,” the Jewish Council organized itself. At its head was the former vice-chair of the Jewish Council in the large ghetto—Hersz Eisenberg. His associates were the leader of the workers' office on the Jewish Council, Moshe Rotbejn, and the provision director, Anatol Goldberg. The first task of the newly-formed Jewish Council consisted of collecting several thousand zlotys for Commissar Fabish. He ordered this as a reward for the firemen for their work in spraying the Jews with water while they lay in the “Umschlagplatz” awaiting the transport to Treblinka. Further, the Jewish Council was occupied in organizing a constant supply of bread at normal prices and supplying the ghetto with the necessary

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medications and first-aid equipment. Soon these matters were taken care of.

This quick settling of the concerns of the ghetto was one of the tactics of the German extermination program. They had to blind the eyes and distract the attention of the Jews, whose end would come through death in the gas chambers. Through intervention with the directors of the Jewish Council, Fabish had ordered the city leaders of Siedlce to distribute ration cards to the inhabitants. The head of the Gestapo had given all three members of the Jewish Council permission to move freely around the city. Thanks to that, it was possible to establish contact with the bakers, who every day produced bread. There was an agreement with the pharmacists, who dealt with the medications. They were also allowed to purchase necessities for the ghetto, such as: lights (there was no electric lighting), matches, laundry powder, and so on.

Because of the hunger, filth, and hard labor, a variety of illnesses flourished in the “small ghetto,” producing many victims. Aside from those being shot, every day, people died of illnesses. The “mortuary” was found in a stable in a muddy courtyard in the center of the “small ghetto.” There the dead were laid directly onto the ground. Most were set down there completely naked, covered with flies. Once a week, an open wagon came, onto which the dead were hastily thrown and taken to the Jewish cemetery, where they were buried in a common grave.

A great addition to the mortality rate in the ghetto came from the German firm Reckman. The firm's headquarters were in Berlin. Its main concern was building train cars and train stations for freight. Here they employed several hundred Jews, who had to work until they dropped. For the slightest detail they were beaten unmercifully. The rations that the firm provided for the Jews consisted of a little dish of watery soup in which there swam a few bits of wilted greens and potatoes. In such conditions the people had to work until late into the night unloading

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the wagons and laying new tracks for the great number of military transports that were going to the east. Seldom did a worker last more than two weeks. Sending a person to work there amounted to sending him to a painful death. It was no wonder that no one wanted to work for the Reckman firm. The guards from the firm, together with the foremen, therefore each day ordered raids in the ghetto and later also kidnapped women for this difficult work.

Each day a supply of men who had fallen from weariness was brought back. There was a horrible procession: several score ragged and exhausted Jews dragged the train car, on which lay people with yellowed faces, swollen, with guards behind them. Thus did the Reckman firm send home Jews who had fallen from mistreatment at work. At their return to the ghetto, those incapable of work were taken out of the wagons. They were left lying on the ground. Sometimes someone snuck them a piece of bread or a bit of water, and thus they lay there until they expired. Among the unfortunate victims were many who had “escaped” to Siedlce from other ghettos that were liquidated earlier. The Reckman firm, through its labor system, helped the Germans carry out their extermination program while extracting large profits from the unfortunate doomed slaves. Despite the whole horrible and desperate situation, people quickly adapted to the sad reality to the extent possible.

Gradually in the “small ghetto” there was a change for “the better”: the Roma were taken out, and the buildings that they had taken were divided among the Jews. This reinforced the feeling of security. People were comforted with the idea that nothing would happen during the winter. People began to prepare food and heating. Thus things went during September and October, and then the month of November arrived.

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The Germans Assemble the Jews for the Final Extermination

On the first of November the Germans issued an order to create five large ghettos. There they would settle all the Jews from the whole Government General. Siedlce belonged to the selected cities with a “Jewish ghetto.” By the first of December, all the Jews from the surrounding towns, within about 40 kilometers had to assemble in the “small ghetto” in Siedlce.

The inhabitants of the “small ghetto” had various opinions about this order. Some took it as a good sign; others held that the danger was not obvious and they surmised that the Germans simply wanted to gather together all the Jews in the ghettos, those who remained alive and those who had been hidden, so that they could later easily send them to Treblinka. A few days later, the German authorities issued an order that the ghetto would be called the “Gesi Borek Labor Colony.” This colony was three kilometers outside the city and consisted of three resident blocks in the middle of a field which were to be inhabited by the unemployed. The motive for moving the ghetto was announced—the danger of the typhus epidemic in the ghetto could have been transmitted to the Aryan side.

The move was supposed to begin on December 27, early. People were only permitted to take with them what they could carry in their hands. An extraordinary panic broke out. People feared the fate of the several score of children who had been smuggled into the ghetto and they were uneasy about the fate of the old and the ailing who could not make the several kilometer trip. Those people who over time had managed to get a bit of clothing, food, a sack of potatoes—it was hard for them to part with their few goods. A few days before the transfer, people managed to smuggle the things they had to leave behind outside the ghetto to Poles whom they knew. Not far from “Gesi Borek” was a glassworks, in

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which there labored several scores of Jews. The Jews lived there and people secretly took the smuggled goods to them. In the last two days, there were even wagons bearing goods. The Gestapo and the gendarmes closed their eyes so that they would not see what the Jews were doing. Naive people rejoiced that they were fooling the Germans. The last evening before the transfer to the new ghetto, people secretly took to the glassworks several score of people—among them, the old and ill. They were put in a nearby barn. In the morning they were supposed to be taken to the residential blocks. The last night in the “small ghetto” was sleepless and frightening. People thought: “Isn't 'Gesi Borek nothing more than a German joke, when in fact we will be taken to the station and from there sent to Treblinka?”

 

It Will Be “Good”—A “Free, Unfenced Ghetto”

In the morning, all assembled for the march. At 9 a.m., Fabish and the head of the Gestapo arrived. They looked over the lines of people, gave the final orders, and informed the Jewish Council that for transporting the ill and the weak there were wagons. In fact, soon enough several wagons appeared, sent by the magistrate. People loaded some packs and the ill on the wagons. At around noon, with sighs and weeping, people left the “small ghetto.” The long column headed in the direction of “Gesi Borek.” No one was ganged up on, shot or beaten. The trip lasted about 2 hours and ended with no one having collapsed. Again the hangmen pretended to drop their vigilance, but only the totally naive believed that the Germans had become better and had good intentions. People with deeper insight looked with dread at everything they saw and asked—what lay behind these German machinations?

“Gesi Borek” was a type of open ghetto, not surrounded by fencing. Jews felt free there and soon after their arrival at their new dwelling place they began to purchase food

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from the local peasants and even thought about straw for bedding. Things seemed good, but for how long?

They did not have to wait long. Soon, in the morning after the arrival at the new ghetto, the labor office ordered all Jews who lived at their places of labor to move into the ghetto. Outside of the ghetto, only those Jews who had special permission could remain. Soon after, thanks to the Gestapo, they began to bring transports of Jews to Gesi Borek from the surrounding area, and one block of residences was given to the Roma. It began to grow hot. The storm was imminent.

 

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The Jews from Loszitz, 30 kilometers from Siedlce, are brought to the Siedlce ghetto

 

People received no bread from the city. The single well could not supply everyone with water. There was another well in the courtyard of the Roma, but they would not spare the Jews any injustices. The crowding in the dwellings was again horrible, and on top of this another 1000 people arrived in the ghetto. Leaving the ghetto was forbidden upon pain of death. In the nearest village, several Jews who had gone to find food were shot.

 

The Final Liquidation of Siedlce's Jews

This situation did not last long. On the night between Shabbos and Sunday, from November 30 to December 1, “Gesi Borek” was surrounded with a heavy cordon of gendarmes, Polish police, and specially brought-in Ukrainian police. They called everyone out of their homes

[Page 669]

and beat everyone murderously, ordering them onto the ground near the houses. After a couple of hours sitting, they were commanded to get up and march. Soon there was an announcement that there were no wagons at the station. They were ordered to go into one block and not to stir from the spot. They were not even permitted to go from one room to another. Even without that command, it would not have been possible to go from one room to another because of the crowding. In the small room of the single-storied brick building there were about 3,000 people.

So there we sat, crowded together, for all of Sunday. During the day, the various German employers brought their Jewish laborers and delivered them to the hands of the Ukrainian police. The following businesses retained their Jewish workers:

1) Gravel pit mines “Kisgrube”—200 people; 2) trains—100 people; 3).camp for army welfare—150 people; 4) agriculture syndicate—30 people; 5) glassworks—about 60 people. There were two firms whose names I do not remember that presented their Jewish workers.

The condemned sat there for a whole day without a drop of water. There was unbearable shooting. People who looked out of the window were shot. In the square between the houses they shot: the head of the Jewish Council Hersz Eisenberg with his wife and one-year-old daughter and the commander of the Jewish police—Avraham Ressler. He was killed by an older Polish policeman with whom he had had personal difficulties.

In the evening there was a terrible wind and a snow storm. It became completely dark, so that one could not see. The darkness encouraged a few bold ones to jump out of the windows. The guards began to shoot blindly and constantly. Scores tried to escape and two hundred were shot.

Early Monday we were taken outside and arranged in columns, then taken to the “Falmin” train station. There were no wagons there. We were forced to sit in the snow and wait. Meanwhile, the Gestapo men

[Page 670]

Walked among the columns and took from the unfortunate people their last bit of money, rings, earrings, and so on. A couple of hours later, the train arrived and they began to load the Jews. The Jewish police ripped off their insignias and wanted to board with everyone else. But the murderers would not permit them to. For their fidelity and service during the whole time the ghetto existed—the Jewish police received a privilege—a wagon all their own.

 

Sie670.jpg
The last Jews of the Siedlce ghetto walk to the loading station on their way to Treblinka

 

Around 4 in the afternoon the train moved in the direction of Treblinka. The “passengers” were not ignorant of their fate, which had already overtaken hundreds of thousands who had gone on the same route. All aspects of that treacherous and awful “death mill,” Treblinka, were already well known. Three months after the first aktions, during the time of the “small ghetto,” people who had through some miracle escaped from the flames of the crematoria took refuge in Siedlce, which was almost always their first place to rest. They told the truth about Treblinka. No one believed the German assurances that they were being taken to labor in the eastern areas, and they therefore sought the possibility of avoiding the death wagons.

As soon as the train started to move, people in many of the wagons sought a way to create openings. The well-known Siedlce locksmith, Szymka Wilk, brought tools with him with which one could open locked wagons. When the train was fully in motion, Wikl opened his wagon and

[Page 671]

many of the condemned leapt out. Also many jumped out of the wagon carrying the Jewish police. The majority of those who leapt out were shot on the spot or captured. Those who managed to escape the bullets ran back to the area of Siedlce and went to the work centers where there were still Jewish workers. Although these Jews lived with the fear of death and had no security from hour to hour, they accepted into their barracks the escapees and protected them from the guards. And these workers did not hold out for long either. Anticipating the danger, a portion escaped from the work camp into the woods. Others forged Aryan papers and lived in various towns. Those who could not, or who feared running from the work camp, were taken out to the Jewish cemetery and shot. They were taken out in groups—each day a separate group. The last were the Jewish workers from the train, and gravel pit firms.

The Jewish possessions were liquidated in the following way: the best and most expensive things were taken by the Germans. The rest were sold for groschen to the Poles. They went off with wagons full. Peasants in particular loved buying Jewish items. They would stand for several hours in lines in order to get some. Everything that remained in the “small ghetto” and “Gesi Borek” was given away to the Roma.

In 1943, Siedlce was “Judenrein.” From time to time a Jew would be captured in the area, but he would be shot on the spot.

Thus did Hitler's murderers obliterate a center of Jewish life that had numbered 17,000 souls, a center that had glittered with a rich cultural and community life.

Some people survived the liquidation of the Siedlce ghetto by means of Aryan papers. The escapees joined underground organizations that fought against the enemy. A number of them were killed anonymously. I know a little about four Siedlcers: the dentist Dr. Stanislaw Gilgun was killed in the Warsaw uprising; brothers Anatol and Stanislaw Goldberg lived under the names Stanislaw and Antoli Gurki. They were taken in Warsaw and tortured

[Page 672]

by the Gestapo; Kuba Levin fell in Lublin fighting for freedom.

A number of Jews from Siedlce with Aryan papers were sent to Germany for compulsory labor, along with other Poles. There they suffered hunger, destitution, they worked hard in war industries, and in the spring of 1945 they were liberated. I was among them.

 

Sie672a.jpg
 
Sie672b.jpg
Yontel Goldman prepared the bones of the tailor Sosnowicz, who was beheaded by his Polish neighbors in Roskosz. His neighbor stands nearby. Yontel's brother is also there. The young woman fled from Bonn, going to Treblinka.   Yontel Goldman puts into a crate the bodies of Friedman's daughter (from the dry goods shop), with her small child and her uncle Chanina Rafal, whom the Germans killed in Hopelia (near Siedlce).

 

Sie672c.jpg
 
Sie672d.jpg
Yontel Goldman puts into a crate the bodies of the Rafal family: a woman, her two children, and her mother-in-law, shot in Hopelia (near Siedlce)  
The execution of 18 Jews, among them Zebrowicz. They were murdered shortly before the liberation, November 10, 1943

[Page 673]

Sie673.jpg
On the fourth yahrzeit of the last Jews from Siedlce being sent to Treblinka, a small monument made of pieces of grave markers is set up in the Siedlce cemetery.
Under the monument is a common grave in which lies also the rabbi of the butcher's beis-medresh.

Standing by the monument are: 1. Velvel Goldfinger. 2. Shmuel Alberstadt. 3. Moyshe Alberstadt. 4. Simchah Levin. 5. Monish Ridel. 6. Yontel Goldman. 7. Eli Kishilinski. 8. Chaim Rizo. 9. Gwiazre. 10. Raphael Kishilinski from Hopelia. 11. Yidl Rozowikwicz (Lidl Kessele).

 

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