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[Page 674]

My Survival During the German Occupation

by Rokhl Shmukliasz-Vainshtain

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

When the war broke out I lived in Kotzk with my husband Mendel Wishnieh. Desiring to see my parents, Aaron Shmukliasz and Ratze, and my sister and brother, I took a chance and ignoring the fact that no Jew dared be seen in the street or traveling by train, I went to Siedlce in order to see my relatives. In Siedlce, on March 15, 1941, in the Jewish hospital I gave birth to my daughter Batya, with the help of Dr. Lebel.

In the hospital, the whole Jewish intelligentsia cooperated in order to escape being killed. Among them was my former teacher Edzia Alberg, my former drama director from the drama club in “Ha-Zamir,” Yakov Tenenbaum. Eight days after the birth of my daughter, that is, on March 23, 1941, a terrible pogrom began in Siedlce, led by the Germans. The moans and cries could be heard in the highest heavens. They threw women and children from the balconies. Berl Wengrowskiy and others whose names I do not remember, were shot in the mouth. Children were stabbed with bayonets. The Germans tried to drown out the screams and cries of the victims with the noise from truck engines, motorcycles, and other machines.

Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of my husband, I was able to escape from that Gehenna. I managed to get back to Kotzk safely with my child. Despite the great hardships, I was able to stay in contact with Siedlce. I learned

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that my father, on his way to work, had been hit on the head by an SS man, which caused an infection. His foot had to be amputated. His soul departed in the Jewish hospital.

Siedlce was devoid of Jews. My mother and sister had to flee from Siedlce and stay with a Christian, Barkowski, in the village of Shmiari. Not wanting to be separated from me, they came by back roads to Kotzk, where we were together for three weeks.

In Kotzk, people had already begun to speak of an “action” that signified the liquidation of the ghetto. My relatives advised me that I should flee with with my child to Warsaw, using Aryan certifications. Following their instructions I decided to leave Kotzk. Parting from my relatives was tragic. I truly did not want to leave them, preferring to die together with them. But my beloved mother reassured me and gave me courage and hope that we would soon see each other because they would come to me as soon as possible. Finally, I left.

Traveling by train to Warsaw with my fourteen-month-old child, the Christians recognized me as a Jew. They stabbed me with their poisonous words, and not wanting to be taken by them, I decided to throw myself under the train with my child. But suddenly one Christian grabbed hold of me and would not let me jump from the train.

I can still hear his words: “I hate Jews, but I feel pity for a mother with a small chid”—and he rescued me from certain death.

The Pole's actions affected all onlookers in the car. They left me in peace, and so I arrived in Warsaw. With my Aryan papers, I managed to fit in among the Poles, always in a panic. I lived with my child in constant fear of death, and thus I survived the war.

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About the Final 2000 Jews of Siedlce

by Dov–Ber Blechstein (Jerusalem)

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

I will offer a collection of memories about my experiences in Siedlce in those black autumn days of 1943.

In those days there were already a number of cities and towns in the General Government of Poland that were “cleansed” of Jews. Most of them had already been killed. In Warsaw, Siedlce, and in a few other cities, as well as in the labor camps, a small number of Jews remained. Hitler's killers worked slowly, with German efficiency and diligence; the Jews had to be exterminated until the very end–made to “disappear,” so the “actions” were conducted frequently. The plan also involved using the physical labor of the Jews. So the Jews were crowded into the diminished ghettos and labor camps.

This is how I survived the “actions” in Warsaw and in Otwock. In Otwock, after the bloody “action,” a few hidden Jews remained. On the morning after the liquidation, the houses were searched. Those who were found were shot on the spot. I was in a group about to be shot, but suddenly there was an announcement: “Let us have no more to do with the Jews. What we have done will not find favor with America.”–So said the Polish police who were guarding us. So the group of us, around 60, were taken by transport to Kolbiel, where there was a “permanent ghetto.” From there I was taken to Kaluszyn. In Kaluszyn I was seized by the SS and taken to the Siedlce labor camp of the “Richard Reckman Engineering Company.”

The name “Reckman” was a well–known horror in

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Jewish Kaluszyn. I, along with some others, was led to this hellish place. When we had gone a couple of kilometers from Kaluszyn, the transport stopped. Soon an SS officer appeared. He took us to his small car and said, “Work hard and in two weeks you will be able to leave on furlough.” We formed a column. Along the way I often saw Jews with shovels in their hands that were intended for the work. Finally we arrived at the area of the train station.


In “Reckman's” Gehenna

When we got out of the car, it was pretty dark. We were met by Germans, A Jewish young man told us in Yiddish and Polish that any skilled laborer should identify himself. I identified myself as a joiner. Soon we were led into the barracks. Hungry and tired, we fell fully clothed onto the ground and kay on the muddy, filthy straw. The night was half gone and soon we were awakened. We had to stand up immediately and stand in a thousand–person line in order to receive a little cup of chamomile tea and a tiny piece of bread with marmalade. It was still dark. Fog still hung in the air. Hundreds of electric lights shimmered, lighting up a huge area of railroad tracks, buildings, and building materials. We were given a while to eat. Standing there, the little bit I ate wore off and I began to feel hungry.

Later there was a roll call. The German overseers called for their former and newly selected workers and led them to work. Fear was palpable. Men were transformed into working animals who were beaten with whips. Some were torn open, barefoot, bloody. I understood that they would beat you bloody. I became acquainted with the German with the “Red Sling.” He was there terror of the prisoners. Every day he had to have a bloody victim. The groups went off to their daily tasks, to shoveling sand, to working the concrete, mostly to digging, carrying, and so on. The skilled workers worked in

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their crafts. We went gratefully to the joinery and to the cross–saw.

At noon there was a signal and we all stood in a row, which from day to day grew longer. In charge of our lunch was a Pole who held a thick stick. Without provocation, he struck out to the right and to the left. People said that this stick–hero was the former teacher Zayancz. Anyone who had a bowl and a spoon could eat a half–liter of chestnut soup, in which one could sometimes find a potato. Once I noticed that in the kitchen worked Jewish girls from Siedlce and a couple of men. For such good jobs they must have paid a lot, but they were not to be envied. One fellow was beaten to death there. Standing in line lasted a long time, so that often there was not enough time to finish the little bit of soup.

The Polish train officials and workers had their own kitchen, where soup could be bought for a zloty. This is what was left over after the meat and the other substantial elements were removed. One had to sustain himself with this little bit of purchased food. The German civil officials at the train station had brought their families from Germany–wives and children. German children used to walk through the work area and mock the Jews, striking them with sticks. Woe to those whom they found with a bowl of food near the Polish kitchen. I myself was well beaten by a teenaged “Hitler youth.” I could barely get away, and defending oneself meant certain death through gruesome means.

Horrible were the days and painful the nights. For sleeping, we were treated like cattle in a stall–all the time in a different spot. For a short while my group slept about two km. from the workplace. We were awakened by the German overseers and the Jewish enforcers–the well–known Jewish ghetto police. In our stall there was much anxiety that if one had to go out at night, he would no longer return to the place where he had previously lain. Therefore it often happened that one lay in his own urine, even when it became frosty…

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Every morning the roll call was repeated. Then people went off to their unbearable compulsory work; again there were long lines of exhausted, bloodied Jews and again the question arose: what else could happen?

One Jew, a heavy fellow, bloodied, whose clothes consisted of a sack around his loins, threw himself into a pit full of water, trying to kill himself. Merciful Jews pulled him out of the water and he again was forced to stand for the roll call. Someone pointed out that this was an unsuccessful suicide attempt and he should be given easier labor. To this the “Red Sling” responded, “It's too bad you rescued him. Now he'll have to die gradually.” Meanwhile, the SS people appeared in the camp and shot the weak, who could no longer work quickly. In the morning, at the roll call, the work commander said: “Do your job so that you don't end up like they did yesterday.” People continued to seek a bit of hope, and more than one thought, “ We are not the guilty ones…”


The Nights of Horror and Terror

A short time passed. For a week I slept outside the city. My companion was a wagoner from Kielce, a good soul. He worried over me and took care of me. One time I had to sleep nearer to our workplace, in the area of the train station near the bridge. That was a night of horror and terror.

In the middle of the night, someone pulled my sleeve. Friends awakened me. We were formed into a work detail that had to bury the dead in the middle of the night. So half dead, verging on death ourselves, we went to bury those who were already dead. We found some taleisim, I don't know how. We buried the martyrs in deep silence and respect near the foundation of the building we had worked on that day. The workers from Siedlce made a mark near their fellows' grab, so that anyone who saw it would know that this is the resting place of those who had been killed.

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That night I could sleep no more. I was fated to have more terrible experiences.

From the train area came bitter laments and cries. Once before, in Otwock, I had heard such desperate sounds. Every hour the overseer would turn on his electric light. Then I saw around me the exhausted sleeping men. Only one young man was not lying down: he was standing and praying. Twice more by the glow of the watchman's light I saw him swing in prayer, and when dawn arrived, I saw him in the same position. When people were commanded to stand–he had finished his prayers. I suddenly realized that this had been the night of Yom Kippur…

The Polish railway workers told us that at night people had transported the Jews of Kaluczne, and that news spread through the camp. The Nazi hangmen always used the Jewish holy days to carry out their bestial

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Yontl Goldman looks over the bodies of the murdered in the train station of Siedlce. He holds 500 zlotys that he found on one of the murdered


Yontl Goldman lays out one of the murdered, who was found by the station without documents

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murders. I was dumbstruck–I had left my family in Kaluczne. I tried to say that it could not be true. I had been sending cards to my relatives inn Kaluczne that a Polish worker had been taking into town and mailing. It had only been a couple of days since I received back my last cards with the inscription “Address does not exist.” By that time I understood German refined, sinister perfidy. I knew about gas chambers in Treblinka. Already in Kolibiel I had encountered a Jew from Warsaw, a porter, who had loaded up in Treblinka the clothing of those who had been gassed. He hid himself in the piles of clothing and got out in one of the wagons. He escaped and told me everything. The inscription “Address does not exist” gave me no rest for days and nights.

The arrival of new Jews in the camp unfortunately indicated that the “Actions” had increased. At roll call the Germans told us: “There have been cases when people escaped from the camp, but where can they go? Your families no longer exist; there are no longer Jews in the cities; so work hard–those who work, live!” This refrain I heard many times in different places.

Things went worse and worse for me. I kept thinking about the fate of my dear ones, and more than once I thought it was better to be dead than alive. I became apathetic. But now my companions began to give me strength. They helped me to eat, especially the Siedlce blacksmith, who often gave me a piece of bread. Thus passed several days.

Early one morning, when I went to get my work tools, not far from the bridge, I saw a new “institution” in the camp: a foreman had opened a chamber and I saw before my eyes a detention chamber. The foreman called out the detainees, but no one moved. They hid in their miserable straw. The watchman fired a shot, and only then did I see wild faces with glazed over eyes. In the chamber had been confined people ill with fevers or injured from the labor. This was the home of the ailing inmates.

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Brotherly Help from the Afflicted

On Sundays people generally did not work. The directors–Germans and Poles–had to rest. We only had to work if there were interior matters. On these free days, those from Siedlce, under guard, went into the ghetto. For providing an escort, the work leaders received packs of cigarettes. One had to have permission to go. I dreamed about visiting the ghetto, and I regarded the Siedlce ghetto as a Garden of Eden.

First of all, I wanted to get a shirt there. My shirt was all torn up and full of lice. But I had received no permission for that. I went into the city with the carpenters to take in boards, and on the way we showed our companions the Jewish quarter. This was near a Gothic church with two tall towers. I took note of these.

I became familiar with the area and its appearance. My companions from Siedlce decided to help the foreign Jews after they heard about my experiences.

The privileged skilled craftsmen, to whom I did not belong, in the meantime received a new place to sleep in a stone building. They slept on wooden bunkbeds with straw mattresses. It was crowded. A few lay on the ground and they found a spot for me as well. I took advantage of the new sleep arrangement for a couple of nights. At night the group cooked and roasted potatoes. They generously gave me something to eat. Sundays were always an opportunity for more food, because the Siedlcers brought some food from the ghetto and then shared it with others. When I met someone new on a Sunday, he would give me a hand with my work and often bring a bit of food of his own.

When I remember the fellowship in that vale of tears, there swims up in my memory the generosity of the Italian soldiers. A number of them walked or drove

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through the work area. They threw us their fresh rolls and cigarettes. One of them took off his neckerchief and gave it to me. The Germans looked at him with contempt. One of the Germans called out to the Italians, “You don't understand anything.”

Those more “merciful” days in the carpenter shop soon ended. I soon became superfluous there, and at the roll call I was assigned to carry railroad tracks. The work in the carpenter shop had been for me a pleasure, although there had also been difficulties. I worked really hard until my strength gave out. I was often beaten without provocation.

One time, the foreman threw at me an enormous board. I moved aside and avoided being killed. Another time, the foreman left me on my own for a short period, near the cross–saw, which was near the border of the work area. A German civilian who was going by was suspicious that I was escaping and he led me away to be shot. On the way, he beat me with my own hammer. My foreman returned an freed me from my assailant. One time a German stopped me, a train official. He told me to move back three steps and then he asked my profession. I answered that I was a carpenter. “Sure,” he said. “You were a carpenter. You had a furniture store and you swindled Gentiles.” Then he beat me with a board that he ordered me to give him–and this was the good stuff.

Now I became part of a group that was carrying railroad tracks. I could barely hold up for half a day. We carried tracks that were nailed to the ties. In each opening between the ties was placed a man who held the rails in his hands, stood up, and started moving. In the afternoon, I had to stand at the end of the track. I could no longer hold on to it. At first I walked bent over, and later I could not carry it at all. The overseer took me out of the line and started to beat me. I fell down and could not stand back up. He never stopped beating me. A second German came by and kicked me. Then

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he put his revolver to my temple. I was lying on the ground and thought I was seeing the last moments of my life. I did not care. Let death come–the redeemer. Suddenly there was a tumult, chaos, around me. The wagon driver lifted me up and put me in the middle of the line among the rails. He himself took my previous position at the end, the most difficult position, and he worked there for a good hour until night fell and work ended.

In the evening, I could not even go after a piece of bread and chamomile tea…I barely dragged myself to the dormitory of the craftsmen. There I collapsed, beaten and battered. I did not know what went on around me. My companions tried to cheer me up and later gave me a bit of boiled potato. Slowly I came to consciousness. They lay me down in my bed. Each of them came to me and advised me that early in the morning I should flee to the ghetto. Otherwise the overseer would beat me to death. My whole body ached and I was woozy. I could not think clearly. I thought that my end was near. At best they would send me to the “sick ward” that I had seen and I would suffer for a couple of days. The Siedlce ghetto seemed like a deliverance, but to get there I had to escape from the camp and sneak through the Aryan streets, which were full of deadly dangers. I thought it all over and decided that running to the ghetto is the best way out. Beaten and exhausted, I slept deeply. In the middle of the night I was awakened by a noise in the room. Something terrible happened.

In the night shift, Jews worked at finishing up sewer connections. A huge mountain of sand had collapsed and injured many of the workers. Our weary companions ran to rescue these unfortunates. I tried to get up, but I could not. I felt terrible and thought that I could not get to the ghetto. I fell back asleep. I was awakened by the noise of my friends returning. All of the injured ones were still alive. My companions did not allow me to go back to sleep

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One brought me water so that I could wash myself. Another shaved me. They did all this so I would not look like an inmate on the Aryan side. The Jewish badge I had gradually stopped wearing, like the others. Recently there had been an order to wear a “band of shame.” Some had made them out of paper, but generally people did not pay attention to it.

I washed up. This was one of the last times that I washed in the camp. Washing had a good effect on me. Day was beginning. No one spoke, but I sensed my companions' good wishes.

I left the building, which was near the street, and went by the train bridge. I turned left and went a fair distance. After a while, I found myself by train tracks. I knew that I had gone too far. I ran back to the bridge and there went to the right. Soon I saw the well–known church towers. I went quietly in that direction. I saw no one in the street except for one guard, who was sweeping. Soon I saw the barbed wire of the ghetto. I went along the fence until I found a wide opening. There was still a distance to the gate. I looked around and then crawled through the fence.


In the “Small Ghetto” of Siedlce

I finally reached my destination. By the fence stood an old, partially collapsed building. I decided to go in because I was afraid that someone might have noticed me. I entered a room with trepidation. A couple of women were in the room. Their husbands had gone to work. I briefly told them about myself and the women immediately gave me food and drink. After a short time there was suddenly some confusion: men were seized for labor. A man came in from outside and hid himself in a dresser in a dark corner. I did the same.

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For a good hour I lay there in an uncomfortable position. This was my introduction to the ghetto.

When I left my hiding place, I ran into a small Gypsy boy. [Trans. Note: “Gypsy” is a pejorative term, but it is the term that was used, so I retain it for authenticity.]. In the Siedlce ghetto, the Germans used Gypsy children to search for people who were hiding in the buildings. The child spotted me and I was seized for labor. I was placed in a work detail and sent to the train station to unload coal. So I found myself back at the station, but this time on the other side of the viaduct, opposite “Reckman's.” I began to pour out coal, but it did not want to go. With me was a Jew from Vengerov whom I had known in Kalusze. He stood before me and told the German that I had had typhus and was just out of the hospital. The German ordered me out of the wagon so I could pick up coal from the ground. How this could have happened I still cannot explain, because the same German beat everyone else mercilessly with a cane. In the afternoon, another German came to guard us, and he shot a well–known dentist from Siedlce, Gelbfish. The coal was loaded into dump trucks. When the work had ended, we were taken in the same vehicles to unload the coal. It appeared that we were at the Siedlce land administrator, for whom the coal was intended. It was dark and cold. My comrades put me under a staircase and they unloaded and unloaded without stop through a hole in the cellar. It was quite dark when we were led through the ghetto gate. The man from Vengerov took me with him to eat in a kind of restaurant. I ate some and then I could not stand up. I must have had a fever, because everything became hazy. A young man from Otwock came over to me. I had traveled with him to Kalusze, and he cared for me, took me by the arm and led me through courtyards and up steps until in the darkness we arrived at an attic room, whose floor was covered with people who were lying down. The young man cleared a place for me and we both lay down to sleep.

I was awakened by the call, in German, “Time to get to work.” I now observed the people lying there. They were asleep in their

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clothing. They stood up and went down. Only the ailing remained. I could not move, and I thought, what will be will be. The young man had left. As he went, he said to me that he would be back in the evening. He would consult with a group of Chasidim and see how I could be helped. In the meantime, I found myself in a hovel, on the first floor of which was a hospital and infirmary, which was run by Dr. Belfor.


The Hospital in the “Small Ghetto”

I knew the doctor from “Reckman's.” He came there often–for what? I do not know. It seems that later on he had to stay at “Reckman's.” They found a corner where he could sleep in the barracks. I stood in line for the hospital doctor. After a wait of several hours, I was admitted. I told him what had happened to me the previous night. He told me to undress, examined me, and told me that he had never seen such bruises in his life. My body was totally covered with red and blue welts. What could the doctor do for me beside recommend that I stay in the hospital?

I lay down with someone else on a straw mattress and covered myself with my summer jacket, which I wore earlier when I thought I would die. After some time, for the first time I could take off my clothing.

The “hospital” consisted of a hall, a kitchen, and a large room. Where I lay there were three beds near the wall. Opposite, a pair of straw mattresses on the bare ground. A variety of sick people lay there–with typhus, dysentery, tuberculosis, and other ailments. The one who lay with me had been shot while leaping from the death train. He had to return to the ghetto. In another bed lay an old Jew who in “Reckman's” was assaulted every night. A rock had broken his foot. In the third bed lay a man who had been beaten. Opposite us–these patients: a woman and a few men. Near the door stood a bucket where we all, men and women, had to do

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our private business. The stink was terrible, but even worse were the bedbugs, the lice, and the flies.

The Jewish Council provided the hospital with black bread and black coffee. In the kitchen was a worker who emptied the bucket. For a small fee he brought a little soup when it was allowed.

Among the hospital personnel was a young woman, formerly a teacher, who every morning washed the floor. Her whole family had been sent away and she was sick and unhappy. The Jewish Council had assigned her there to spare her from working for the Germans. In the “hospital” there was also a room where the doctor saw patients. As became clear to me later, there was behind the reception room a hidden room where they kept people when work seizures occurred.

Throughout the day there was activity in the hospital: sick people came to the doctor, and others sought a hiding place. At night, too, people came looking for a little place to sleep. People also came to visit the sick.

I also had guests. The young man from Otwock sought me out and came to me. He was happy that I had found a place. Among those who passed through to the next room, I recognized a friend from my childhood whose name was Ratofel. He was happy to see me and was quite moved. He gave me 100 zlotys, saying that money will not fail me. Eventually I got to know almost all the ill and the well in the hospital. These were the remainder of the Siedlce intelligentsia. Among the others there was a young medical student. He worked as an orderly. At night people gathered around my bed and talked. One of them always had something to eat. He would begin to eat and would treat us as well.

I could no longer stay in the hospital. Also, it was becoming dangerous. An SS man appeared and sought people for labor. My childhood friend disappeared. People said that he had gone to Warsaw. The young man from Otwock

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introduced me to the Rodziner Chasidim, who were prepared to help me.

After leaving the hospital, I again began a time of wandering. I knew the ghetto well, all of its nooks and crannies…It was a quadrangle drawn among two ruined wooden buildings and a pair of not much better stone houses. Of the walls between the houses there was no trace. The whole thing comprised a single place. People could go from house to house. Where there used to be an entrance only from the street, people had knocked down the walls. The entire area of the ghetto had become a large courtyard of rubbish. Wherever you turned, you saw the barbed wire that surrounded the Jewish quarter. People lived where there was only a hole: in cells, on landings, and laundry rooms; almost on the street, in cold and frost, I saw sick people lying on beds. In these horrible, crowded conditions, a pair of rooms were reserved as barracks for outside workers and underground workers. Aside from the hospital, there were three rooms for the Jewish Council and the ghetto police, in a wooden, one–story little house near the ghetto gate. From the gate, through the barbed wire, one could see an already destroyed street–that was the former ghetto. Now it was empty and dead, and when one looked at it, one shuddered at the slaughter of thousands of Jews who had been killed a couple of months earlier. In the shrunken ghetto lived about two thousand Jews, men and women. I do not remember any children.

The nicest four–story brick house had belonged to the Gypsies, a couple hundred of whom lived in the ghetto. They seemed privileged. For leaving the ghetto, a Gypsy was fined, while Jews were beaten to death. The Gypsies wore a sign on their arms. The Gypsies were an additional plague on the Jews in the ghetto.

People in the ghetto lived in extraordinary fear. Each day there were new victims, and the inhabitants trembled. There were many strangers in the ghetto. At first I wondered where these Jews came to this distant, sealed

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ghetto, but later it became clear to me. These were fragments of the three million Jews: in the hardest times of the German extermination, people set aside their lives and traveled to acquaintances and relatives; from the ghettoes, Jews were sent to different camps. Many jumped from the death trains and wandered to a Jewish “settlement”–some such were in the ghetto of Siedlce.

Someone told me that a well–known Otwock property owner had died. I went to pay my final respects. I was taken to the mortuary. That was a large, half–ruined hall. There lay a number of corpses, covered with their clothing. Some were half–naked. In the hall, sitting and standing, were weeping mourners. I don't know any of their fates. The dead were taken to the gate, where a Gentile waited with a wagon. The dead were handed over to the Gentile, and he took them to the cemetery. Jews could not accompany them.

This is how I lived. I ate soup in the “restaurant.” A fine Jewish woman, who was destitute, tried to make a living: she made soup for purchase, or she stood in a corner with foodstuff. There for the first time I saw pages from the Gemara used as wrapping paper. I do not know why, but I was quite surprised. In Warsaw I had sold books to the purse–maker–he took Yiddish books, but he would not buy Hebrew books. There in the small ghetto of Siedlce things had come to such a pass!…Indifference to life had led to indifference toward the sacred.

One time I was passing near the window of the Jewish Council. A good–natured older Jew with a red beard called to me. I later got to now him. He was Ephraim Zelnick. He gave me 30 zlotys. Despite my deplorable situation, I was ashamed to take money from a stranger. But he told me to take it and buy myself a shirt. He gave me soap and soap powder from the Council warehouse. Such was Ephraim Zelnick. I remember him always for his goodness.

The Jewish Council also saw to the mail. Somehow I had by chance a form from the “Red Cross,” from the Germans, from the time

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when I was a clerk in the Jewish post office. Zelnick took from me a short letter that was addressed to my relative in Eretz Yisroel. Our only shreds of hope were always bound up with longing for Eretz Yisroel. In later years I wondered if the letter through the “Red Cross” arrived. The Nazi extermination machine did everything it could to stop the outside world from knowing that Jews still existed.

I continued to sleep in the attic, on the bare floor. I had nothing to cover myself with, although it was winter. I was nearly barefoot. I had left my former ghetto dwelling near death, in August, with a pair of summer pants with holes in them. It was awful. I also became more fearful that I would be seized for labor. I had no idea what would happen until the young man from Otwock, the Rodziner Chasid, appeared again. He was now working in the labor camp, in the “field building office of the Luftwaffe” in Novo–Siedlce. On Sunday he came with a number of other workers, under guard by the camp watchmen–Ukrainians whom the Jews called “Yagdes” because of their black uniforms. The man from Otwock advised me to go to the camp, where I could survive. People there slept in barracks on straw mattresses. There were also enough straw mattresses that one could cover oneself. One could wash oneself. The work consisted of loading building material. I had earlier admired his wisdom and resourcefulness, and I trusted him. At least I would have a place to sleep. There was another motivation for me to go to the camp: I could take the place of another Jew and receive a pair of shoes and 200 zlotys.

That same day I marched with others into the “field building office of the Luftwaffe” in my new shoes. The shoes were big and uncomfortable. I stuffed them with straw and paper. It was hard to lift my feet. But I was not cold in them. It was already evening when we arrived in a large hall. By one wall there were two layers of boards on which lay the straw mattresses. There was also a table, washing utensils, and faucets. The hall was weakly illuminated with electric lights. I

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was amazed when I soon saw a minyan of Jews saying the afternoon and evening prayers. In my state at that time it seemed like a redemption and it sent me into a rapture. Later on, people gave out pieces of bread with marmalade. They ate at a table. The prayers were quite mournful and tragic sounding. After being there for a couple of hours, I found that I was among broken men: widowers, orphans, broken pieces of destroyed families. I discovered that a few days earlier there had been a pogrom in the barracks. The Gestapo had searched everywhere for money and valuables that might have belonged to the people of Siedlce. This search culminated in theft and human sacrifices.

That night I did sleep on a straw mattress and under a straw mattress. Near my bed I found a little prayer book. I took it was such joy and surprise, as if I had discovered something in an archeological expedition from a world that had disappeared long ago. I had already gone such a long way from the time when a normal Jewish world had existed.

I was among the last to get up. I ate the little bit of bread that remained from the evening before, which had to serve for two meals. I had not been able the night before to master my hunger and I ate too much, more than half of the bread. Soon a Polish foreman arrived and we went, under the surveillance of a “Yagda,” for about six kilometers to the workplace. There, every day, there was a roll call. My name had already replaced that of the previous worker. The change had not cost me much. The young man whom I had replaced had discovered that his brother lived in another camp and he did everything he could to reach his brother.

I again passed myself off as a carpenter. Together with other carpenters, none of whom was a true craftsman, we made crates. Our hands grew tired of sawing and hammering nails. At the midday break we ate soup, which I devoured like a wild animal.

We didn't always do the same work. Every couple of days we were assigned to other labor. I packed electrical equipment in crates, arranged

[Page 693]

and carried heavy boards and beams and did all kinds of hard work.

Then came heavy frosts. The snow lay deep on the ground. All day we spent outside. It was not possible to grasp anything, and it was as if we were in “Reckman's” death camp. But through all that need and suffering, we still had our human companionship–together we carried, together we rolled, together we loaded. At work, one companion would help another, give a piece of bread, or share a carrot he had found.

It was a privileged group of craftsmen who lived at the building material place. Among others, there were shoemakers and tailors who worked in the workshop. When the cold was so terrible, at lunchtime we could go in and warm ourselves. Among those workers, I met a young man named Kirschbaum. He worked in the metal depot. Also with us was another young man, a melancholy fellow, who always called out for his wife and child. Kirschbaum always took risks for him and every day asked for his help in the depot. Kirschbaum dreamed of Eretz Yisroel as the only solution to our woes in exile.

I grew weaker and could barely get around. I grew worse and worse. Again I started to be beaten with sticks and boards. Mostly I was beaten by the Polish foreman Derkocz. He also beat others. Once we were filling sacks with potatoes for the Aryan workers. Derkocz had given another Pole a stick for beating Jews, but the Pole did not use it. Derkocz chewed him out with the words, “You should be ashamed. Are you not a Pole?”

We took the sacks full of potatoes in wheelbarrows to the gate. I overturned the load twice. Behind me a young boy was pushing a wheelbarrow. He had a small sack. He stopped and said, “Let's trade. I'm afraid they'll beat you to death”…While unloading the potatoes, I put a couple of potatoes in my dish. On leaving the workplace, the gatekeeper, an older

[Page 694]

“Yagda,” noticed. He struck me with his whip. For a long time I could not catch my breath. With great effort I got to the barracks. The next morning, there was no way I could get to work. After a day of rest, I managed to get back to work.

At that time, a soldier came to the barracks from the agricultural area and chose several workers to work in the courtyard for a couple of days. I was among them. We traveled there and I managed to rest for a short time. Every day was a treasure. But as soon as I got there, I was dead tired from the work. In the yard we loaded bundles of hay onto trucks. With us was the Siedlce hairdresser Yedidah Schwartz. From the yard it was about a kilometer to the kitchen, from which people traveled to the Luftwaffe supply area in a wagon and ate there. We would go there and have our soup.

Then again there were days of pain and torment. It was impossible to sleep in the hall because of the cold. They took us to a neighboring stone building. One morning a few of us remained in the hall in order to bring the mattresses and other things to our new quarters. When we came back to our former places in the evening, the “Yagdes” ordered us to go to the stone building. I did not have much to do. My bowl and spoon were with me. All that remained was a sack, in which were my old pants, a reminder of the dear hands that had bought them; a tablecloth, soap, and bicarbonate that I had received from Zelnick, and the prayer book I had found. The building where we were located had a few rooms on the first floor and a few on the second. In the room where I was were two levels of cots, on which lay blankets. There were 13 of us in the room, among them Yontl Goldman and his nephew. This was the only time while I was in the camp that I encountered two people from the same family. Yontl took good care of his nephew. They slept next to each other. At work, he looked after him.

The evenings were easier–tolerable. People brought

[Page 695]

coals and heated the oven. We sat up until late at night. Some people cooked and shared with strangers. With us in the room was a young man from Sokolov who was known as “the Sokolover.” He was nearly naked. The group got together and at night had the tailor make him a warm coat. The companionship in this new spot was even much stronger, and despite the fatigue from such hard work, there were close ties among the inhabitants of that house. I became acquainted with many men, and I learned that with us were Jews from a second camp called “Flieger–Horst.” In the group I recognized a university friend–the lawyer Tchornobrodo

Time passed. I could not bear the difficulties, and I saw no end to them. Most of the laborers went to the ghetto, but I could not even think about marching so far. There was a difficult Sunday when everyone had to go to work. But this time there came a Pole, an anti–Semite, with a whip in his hand. Terror fell on everyone. He led us to what was called the “tobacco–monopoly.” This was a couple of kilometers from our quarters. There we loaded into wagons beams, boards, crates, barrels. The frost was oppressive. We worked under the gaze of SS men and the Pole. Our overseers beat and pummeled us. I fell off my feet. The worst part was rolling the barrels. My fingers were numb from the cold. They turned black before the evening. Suddenly rain fell. I was totally without strength and had nothing to lose. I left my work and stood next to a building where there was little roof. Suddenly I heard a shriek from a worker on whom a heavy beam had fallen. It was already eleven o'clock when we were called to go into the barracks. We found something that served as a makeshift stretcher on which they put the injured man so they could carry him. Every few minutes they took turns. In order not to shake him up, they took a longer

[Page 696]

route. Only a few, weak and ill, went as they had in the morning–through the fields. It was so dark that we could barely see each other.

That night I hardly ate anything. I lay on my bed, weak and worn out. In the morning, I again did not go to work. And I was not the only one. In our rooms lay a good number of dead from the previous day, including the man who had been injured.

On the following days, too, I did not get to work. People started to say that those in the Siedlce ghetto would be sent to “Gensze Barky.” I did not know what that meant. Once again the oppressed voices of my companions had an effect on me. They all had someone in the ghetto. The ghetto was a support spot for the camp workers.

I continued to lie there and started to become increasingly swollen. I noticed that my companions were concerned about my condition. Yontl Goldman brought in parsley, boiled it in water, and gave me the water to drink. People said this was a cure for kidney disease that had made me swell up. The tailor among us sewed all night. He had just about finished up a roll of thread and discovered that the thread had been wound around a 20 zloty banknote. They all decided that the money belonged to me and that they should rescue me. They bought food for me to eat.

From day to day, there were more people ailing in our rooms. One night, a young man came to us, a twenty–year–old SS man. He looked around. Someone was smoking in his presence. This was a great impertinence. The SS man took out his revolver. The Jew shouted, “Shema Yisroel,” almost like a scream, but the one with the “death's head” did not shoot. He asked me why I was lying there. I responded that I was very tired. I was afraid to tell him that I was ill. The young German

[Page 697]

laughed and said, “They'll be burying you somewhere,” and he left us.

The matter of “Gensze Barky” arose again; “Gensze Barky” meant something terrible.

In the morning it was announced that the ill and many of the other workers would be sent back to the ghetto. There was an uproar and lamenting. People sought protection so they could stay in the camp.

I was indifferent to all of it. I lay there for a couple more days. Lying there was legally allowed for the ailing. For the moment, one could breathe free.

In the middle of everything, we had guests. About twenty of our comrades arrived from the other work camp. They had been working at the “Luftwaffe field house.” Most of them were candidates for the ghetto. In the morning we were all taken out to the street. A number were divided out to go to the ghetto. The “lucky ones,” those who stayed behind, went to work as usual.

We left the place, and under the watch of the “Yagdas” we went in the direction of the small ghetto.


The Small Ghetto is Liquidated

Those who returned to the ghetto went to friends and relatives. But I stood there alone. I had no one. To whom could I go? My first steps took me to the room that was familiar–the waiting room of the Jewish Council and the ghetto police.

When I was near “Reckman's,” a Jewish policeman smacked me in the face because I did not get into the line. My cheek immediately swelled up. The policeman was a former hairdresser, but not all of the Jewish police were like that. Among them were some who recognized the ugly role they were playing and felt bad about it.

In Otwocs, a Polish and a Jewish policeman had led me to execution. The whole way, the Jew cried and embraced me.

[Page 698]

He said, “Oy vey iz mir. I'm taking you to your death.” One time a Jewish policeman threw me a 20 zloty coin, and when I wanted to return it to him, he said that it was not his. So I went into the police department with the hope that I would find there someone with a human heart.

I sat for a while in the police department and looked around to see what was going on. There I learned that at the end of the November, the Germans had announced in the “New Warsaw Courier,” on placards on the Aryan side, and also through notices in the ghetto that a new ghetto was being prepared where Jews could settle freely until December 1.

But where should people go now? On the second floor of the same house lived the Itzkowitz family, whom I had known earlier. The doors were still open to anyone. I went in and sat there quietly. I wanted nothing but to sit. Both in the room and outside there was a commotion. Along the fence stood Jews and tried to sell things at low prices to the Poles. But at each moment there were fewer buyers. Why should they pay even the smallest price when on the next day they could take anything in the ghetto for free?

Dejection was everywhere. Everyone had packed up. Everyone still had a little hope for life. Hitler's beasts had ordered that the ghetto had to be cleaned out and handed over, but that in “Gensze Barky” everyone would be able to survive the war. So why could we not remain in Siedlce? People seized on the word “must,” as if the word signified a necessity that was not totally comprehensible and so seemed conditional.

The whole day wagons passed with beds, bedclothes, and other things for “Gensze Barky.” Anyone who had money and protection could transport these necessities. The Jewish Council also sent their storehouse of bicarbonate, soap, and basic medications. The Germans allowed all this and thereby showed that they had “no bad intentions,” only that the ghetto had to be cleared out.

Everyone packed up. Early in the morning, everyone had to

[Page 699]

leave the ghetto carrying only hand luggage. The noise and commotion were terrible, and meanwhile night had fallen. It was already quite late when the voices quieted down and the tired populace all lay down to spend their last night in their birthplace, where their ancestors had lived for generations and where they themselves had grown up, now to be displaced by the Germans

That night I had no worries about where to sleep. I stayed with the Itzkowitzes. I had material to make a bed–on the next day, everything that remained would be worthless. The Itzkowitzes were always good to me. When I awoke, the elder Itzkowitz was standing in his tallis and tefillin, praying. He was weeping. New people arrived in the house–relatives who had been sent from different work camps and had been assigned to go to “Gensze Barky.” People were packing until the last minute. We also ate. I put wood on the fire and roasted potatoes, as much as I wanted, since we could not take them with us. The potatoes belonged to no one, since the “Aryans” did not want to buy them.

Finally I was ready for the unknown road. I put a few potatoes in my bag, since I was not strong enough to carry too many. It was very cold. In the room remained tablecloths, pieces of clothing. I could ask no more questions. I wrapped a tablecloth under my coat, put some things on my shoulders, wrapped up my neck–something in addition to the scarf that I had received from the Italian soldier. I put my bag on my back and I was ready for homelessness. Everyone else had already left the room. I was the last, like a forgotten dog…

Soon the gates of the ghetto were ordered open, this time on the other side of the house, where the Jewish Council and ghetto police were. This lasted a little while. It seems there was an order not to rush. No Germans could be seen, only Polish police.

Finally the sad, dark mass of people began to

[Page 700]

trudge over the white, snow–covered streets. Again I was among the last. People went so slowly. There were many who were old and ill. On the sides of the streets, on the sidewalks, the Polish police watched us. We approached the street of the church. Curious and happy Aryan Poles came out to the street to watch the parade.

That parade was awful. Men and women walked (as for children, I do not recall any) with burdens on their backs and in their hands. Some made sleds from a pair of boards and dragged their baggage through the snow. Behind the Jews came the Gypsies. From time to time a cry was heard, when the Gypsies wrested a bag away from a Jew; soon it became still again–after all, what did that signify in the sea of Jewish woes?

When we were outside of the city, I noticed about 18 meters from the road I saw a gendarme in his brilliant yellow uniform and yellow boots. He was probably in charge. He was proud. and silent.

We arrived at “Gensze Barky.” A few three–story houses of red brick stood in the form of a letter “chet” near the street. In the middle was a large courtyard with two pumps. The area was surrounded by barbed wire, but there were open spots. Rolls of barbed wire lay around for finishing the job.

I could barely drag myself to the new Jewish living area, and I had only one desire–impossible though it seemed, to lie down under a roof. Many people had already been in their living quarters, which the Jewish Council had assigned; others were seizing dwellings. The anxiety in the rooms was extraordinary; the rooms were small, for single people, built for the unemployed. Straw lay on the floor. There were no beds and no cots. I saw divided rooms on two floors. The Gypsies were given preference–they took over a whole building. Soon people had barricaded themselves in, fearing an “invasion” of strangers.

The frost was unrelenting. The attics and stairways filled up. Two of my acquaintances

[Page 701]

from the campo arranged themselves under a stairway…they welcomed me there, but I turned them down, because there was not even space there to sit and it was as cold as out on the street. I continued to look for a place in a room, but I became totally desperate and hopeless. After a while, I saw people crowding into an empty room. This spot was reserved for the Jewish Council as an office and a storeroom. But in the meantime, it was packed with a score of people. At first everyone was standing, but later–and I do not know how–most began to sink down and all lay down, pressing into each other. Night fell. Half–standing and half–sitting, I fell asleep. So I slept through the whole night in this mass of people, awakened frequently by my neighbors who, in their sleep, fell upon one another. When day came, many left the room. Now I could stretch my bones, but I could not remain for long in this asylum. People came to claim the room for the Jewish Council and we had to leave. I thought that now would come my hoped for death that I could not impose on myself–the easy death of freezing…

After the awfulness of the previous day, life got a little better. I was happy when I ran into the medical student. He told me that the Jewish woman who had sold food and made the soup was still carrying on her “business,” and he took me to her location. It was a wonder that in the building there was a kitchen, a stove, and a dwelling. The crowd there was unbelievable. I ate some soup and stayed there as long as possible. When I was outside on the street, I returned to the room of the Jewish Council. There I met Zelnick and his son–in–law, the lawyer Eisenberg. He greeted me. It appeared that he knew about me. I told him that I wanted to return to the Warsaw Ghetto. Zelnick invited me into his room. His wife served me a dish of soup and then another dish of soup. I sat there for a long time, eating the soup and not thinking of courtesy. In their dwelling were a couple of relatives, who were quite nervous.

While I was sitting there, hungry people

[Page 702]

continuously knocked at the door; people gave each of them a piece of bread. More people came into the room, and I clearly understood that I had to leave, so I stood up. As I was leaving, Zelnick told me that I could spend the night in the Jewish Council room, where he would lock me in. I suffered through another couple of hours until it was night. I waited for Zelnick. Finally he arrived and let me into the room. He left me a light and matches. I found a bit of wood and made a fire. Sitting at the table, I slept for the night. In the morning, Zelnick let me out. I ate more soup and paid with the potatoes that I had in my bag and went out again into the cold.

In the courtyard there was a huge commotion. People had lined up at the pump to get some water. A little further on there was a burial for those who had frozen during the night because they had had nowhere to go. A policeman led about twenty people to work in the city–work was now a privilege.

My savior Zelnick came to the Jewish Council. A crowd of men came up to him. These were refugees from other cities who, according to the decision of the Jewish Council, should receive 10 zlotys and an identity card. Zelnick had spoken to me earlier about this and he had assured me that I would get a greater sum. He kept his word and stuffed into my hand some papers. I counted later: he had given me 40 zlotys. An “identity card” he had given, but without the German stamp and only for Kaluszyn and Rembertow. Not for Warsaw. Zelnick squeezed my hands in farewell.

The gates of the new ghetto were not guarded, and the fence had not completed.

My feet were terribly swollen; I was nervous about going. But I had already decided, long ago, to go to the Warsaw Ghetto. I went on the path to Kaluszyn and met up with a group of Jews. My feet were so heavy that I remained walking behind.

How I dragged myself to Kaluszyn, Minsk, and later

[Page 703]

to Warsaw, that is a separate chapter that does not belong to the story of the destruction of the Jews of Siedlce.

I arrived at the Warsaw Ghetto shortly before the uprising. I was interested in the fate of the last Jews of Siedlce who had been taken with myself to the “Geszne Barky.” I learned that the last Jews of Siedlce had been taken to Treblinka.

[Page 704]

The committee of the great city shul

Standing: Y, Kleinwechsler, Akiva Goldfarb, A. Kirschenbaum.
Sitting: Dovid Rubinstein, Eliezer Shlipke, Chazen Pasowski and Nachum Halbershtam


Overturned pieces of gravestones   An order concerning Jewish behavior


Cows graze among monuments in the Jewish cemetery


Because of a mechanical oversight, we are printing these pictures together here because of their importance for this book.

[Page 705]

Number of Jews in Siedlce at the time of the War's Outbreak
and in Different Periods of the German Occupation

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

In the quarterly of the Jewish Historical Institute in Poland, “Historical Pages,” volume 4, number 2, figure 10, is the following statistical accounting of the number of Jews in Siedlce from the beginning of the war until liquidation.


Date Number of local Jews Additional Refugees
Sept. 1, 1939 15, 253 –––
Dec. 1940 around 13,000 March 15–1,201
March, 1941 12,000 –––
July, 1941 11,674 –––
June, 1942 11,700 –––


As we can see from this chart, the number of Jews in Siedlce declined during the German occupation, as is recorded in the German murder–record, due to epidemics and a growing death rate from hunger and privation.

Dates of Jewish Martyrdom in Siedlce

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

September 7, 1939 (23 Elul 5699), Thursday morning–The Germans began their air assault on Siedlce, focusing on the Jewish streets; the bombardment lasted, with short pauses, until Monday (9/11/39) at night. During those days about 2,000 people were killed, mostly Jews.

[Page 706]

September 9, 1939–Hoping to escape with their lives from the barbaric air assault, the whole civilian population left the city, abandoning their dwellings with their property and their goods. The city was in flames. During the chaos, hordes of peasants came from the surrounding villages and plundered the Jewish homes and businesses.

September 11, 1939 (27 Elul 5699), Monday night–The German army arrives in Siedlce.

September 15, first day of Rosh Hashanah–People are taken from their homes and taken to the military barracks and on Shabbos morning sent to East Prussia via Sokolov–Vengerov.

Simchas Torah. During prayers–A group of German soldiers entered the shul and beat the Jews murderously, ripping their taleisim from them shooting at those who jumped through the windows; shot was Yosef Rubin. Throughout the night bands of armed Germans plundered the Jews's homes and businesses. They dragged people from their houses and led them to Vengerov.

End of October, 1939–A group of German soldiers burst into the shul and the beis–medresh. They took the Torah scrolls out of the ark, ripped them up and stomped on them.

End of November, 1939–The Gestapo arrived and issued an order for a Judenrat of 25 people. This Judenrat was ordered by the Germans to pay the sum of ten thousand zlotys.

December, 1939–The Judenrat received another order to pay 20,000 zlotys.

December 24, 1939–In the middle of the night, the Germans set fire to the shul and to the beis–medresh. Many Jews were burned, wounded and killed in the flames.

April, 1940–Registration of all Jewish men aged 16 to 60.

[Page 707]

June 12, 1940 (first day of Shavuos)–A group of savage, armed Germans attacked Jews and shot the iron merchant Asher Hertz.

November, 1940–The Judenrat received orders to pay another ransom, this time for 100,000 zlotys.

December 31, 1940–A German command that every Jew above 12 years old must wear a arm band with the inscription “Jew” and a Magen David. Also Jewish businesses must be marked with a Magen David. During 1940, Jews were thrown out of the apartments and businesses, which were turned over to Christians.

March, 1941–The German army in Siedlce conducted a pogrom against the Jews that lasted for three days. The Germans plundered and murdered. Six Jews were shot and many were wounded. The pogrom began with a provocation when on the streets Jews were shot. After the pogrom, the Judenrat was ordered to pay another 100,000 zlotys.

Spring, 1941–Jewish homes are burned by order of the German ruling commission.

August 1, 1941 (Erev Tisha B'Av, 5701)–An order is published by the German army ordering the Jews of Siedlce into a ghetto.

October 1, 1941 (Yom Kippur, 5702)–The ghetto is closed off, enclosing the following streets: on the right side–Kochonowske (Shpitalne), Stary Rinek, Berek joselewicz, Mala, First of May as far as Sandawa; on the left side: Pusta, Oslanowicz (Prospektowa), Tornowa (Jatkowa), Browarga, Okopowa, Blonya. After the ghetto was shut up, epidemics and illness increased. Deaths increased.

December, 1941–The Germans demanded that the Judenrat deliver all the fur coats belonging to Jews.

January, 1942–The Germans imposed a fine of 100,000 per month on the Jews.

[Page 708]

March 3, 1942 (Purim, 5702)–The Germans seized ten Jews and took them to Stok–Latzki, a village near Siedlce. By order of the head of the government council for labor, they were shot on the pretext that they had refused to work. The Judenrat was compelled to issue a proclamation that the Germans were correct in their decision to execute the ten Jews.

June, 1942–The Germans ordered the Judenrat to send a variety of craftsmen, with their tools, to a work detail. The selected Jews were sent to an unknown destination. Later it was learned that they had been transported to Majdanek for extermination.

July, 1942–Thirty Jews were arrested on the pretext that they were “laggards” from work. They were tortured in captivity for several days, after which they were led back to the ghetto and shot.

August 22, 1942 (Shabbos, 9 Elul, 5702)–Liquidation of the ghetto. In the middle of the night, the ghetto was surrounded by Germans, Ukrainians, and Polish police. In the morning, all Jews were assembled in the old cemetery by the shul. A selection was made according to suitability for work. A so–called “small ghetto” was formed in a triangle of these streets: Sokolower, Oslanowicz, Torgowa. Five hundred Jews were led in. About 1500 Jews snuck into there “small ghetto.” In the cemetery, several thousand Jews were shot.

August 23–About 10,000 Jews were taken to the train station.

August 24–Liquidation of the ghetto hospital. A group of Germans and Ukrainians, led by the city commander Fabiash, besieged the ghetto hospital on Dluge Street, shot the ill in their beds, including newborn children, as well as the doctors and their assistants. The nurses and the rest of the hospital personnel were led to the courtyard and shot.

[Page 709]

August 26, 1942–Thirty young Jewish women were taken to work in the emptied ghetto, working on sorting and packing the stolen Jewish goods. At night the women were taken to the cemetery, lined up against a wall, and shot.

November 25, 1942 (16 Kislev 5703)–Liquidation of the “small ghetto.” About 2,000 Jews taken to Genshe–Barky.

November 28, 1942–In the middle of the night, Genshe–Barky was surrounded by German, Ukrainian, and Polish police.

November 30, 1942–The last 2,000 Jews of Siedlce and the surrounding area were led from Genshe–Barky to the train and transported to Treblinka. Thus ended the four–hundred year history of the Jews in Siedlce.


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