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Memoirs of My Life – Part I

Moishe Holender

Dedicated in loving memory of my father R. Aaron Leiser; my mother, Raisl;
and my only sister, Chana-Hendel, her husband, and her children – all victims of the Nazi murders.

As a person who was born and raised in Zdunska-Wola, I feel it my duty as a human being to write in the Yiskor Book which is being published by Zdunska-Wola Landsleit – the memories of my youth, of my parents and family, and of the city of Zdunska-Wola, where we were all born, raised and educated. We shared our youthful jobs, as well as the heavy burdens and sufferings of our poor home, the suffering typical of all workers' lives.

In the main, I would like to relate various facts which have become engraved in my heart, of the horribly tragic and dramatic experiences during the Hitler occupation and how I managed to survive all manner of hell, of my physical and mental struggle to stay alive, in order to be able to serve as a living witness and relate to the world (by setting it down on paper), so that generations to come, both Jewish and non-Jewish, shall remember what the Nazi murders did to our mothers and fathers and to the Jewish people. We must remember and never forget, never forgive!

This article which I have now written is only a small episode of the terrible sufferings which I experienced during my difficult and dramatic life; and of the renewal and the re-awakening of a new life with my family here, in this great land, America. Still I cannot for one moment forget my difficult youth and especially the suffering and pain which I underwent during the Second World War.

I was born in Zdunska-Wola on June 20th, 1917, next door to the courtyard of the Gerev Rabbi's house. My parents – Abraham-Leiser and Raisl – were poor working-people. My father was a tailor by trade, who constantly struggled to earn a meager existence for his household.

We were three brothers and a sister. My brother, Leib, left home at the age of 21, in order to ease the economic situation at home. He left for Belgium where he settled and is still there with his family to this very day.

At the age of 21, my one and only sister, Chana-Hendl, married a very warm and likeable young man, Israel Galanternik, a tailor by trade. She had three lovely children and they had a very happy life together. But, as their life started to improve, in the year 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland, and brutally and malevolently began the planned destruction of the Jewish people. Among the first to be annihilated were my dear sister and brother-in-law with their three children, my beloved mother and father and many, many of our friends.

In order not to omit some of the important facts about my family, I feel it my brotherly duty to write briefly about my second brother, Hersh.

Brother Hersh also left home at a very early age – when he was only 15. He went to Lodz and there he continued to ply his trade as a tailor. After a number of years, he married a girl from Lodz, Sarah Jakubowitz and they had three wonderful sons. They live a very happy life together. At the time of Hitler's invasion hey managed to reach Russia. Though they suffered much privation and all kinds of difficulties, they were able to save themselves from the Nazi claws and from the terrible effects of the war gahenna. Now, at the time of writing, they are here in America, where they lead a modest, happy family life and dedicate themselves, in their spare time, to doing important communal and organizational work, for the betterment of mankind.

And now I will try to set down chronologically the pain, the suffering and endurance of my struggle to remain alive.

When I was 13 years of age and finished my education in the Cheder, I was the only one of my brothers and sister still living at home. Shortly

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afterwards, while still very young, my parents sent me to David Yehuda Celnik, to learn the tailoring trade. This tailor taught me the trade properly and treated me very humanely.

While learning this trade, I joined the working- class movement as a member of the “Bund”.

It was there that for the first time I began to receive an education from a professional Jewish worker.

Sometime later, I joined the more advanced, progressive Socialist movement, which gave me a more serious and forthright view of life. This class-conscious approach brought to me the clarity and understanding of problems concerning the working class. So, with my new comrades, I developed other very lofty ideals and we together struggled daily, for a better future, for a better world to live in and for a better tomorrow for all mankind.

In spinning our youthful dreams for the growing interest of the workers, we were also spiritually elevated in the struggle for social improvement and change in the economic structure, as well as for political freedom. In the yearning for freedom and equality, for human uplifting of the spirit in general, our ideals developed. It was with this vision that we hoped to succeed in achieving a more humane and happier life and a better future.

And suddenly, on a very beautiful sunny day, our sweet dreams and bright hopes were suddenly reduced to ashes, as if by a blast of fire; and suddenly we found ourselves in a time of upheaval; where the sun was beginning to set and abruptly we were blanketed in darkness. Everything was thrown into turmoil and people were running hither and thither in fear and confusion – the first signs of panic and despair were in evidence.

It was a sad day for the Jewish people when, on the first day of September, 1939, the German armies invaded Poland and the murderous aggressors marched in, and a few short days, came within sight of Lodz.

On Sept. 15, 1939, the Polish Military Headquarters in Lodz called on all men who were able to bear arms to leave the city. There was not much time to move. In a great hurry we packed some of our small things to take along on our journey.

We bid our wives and families farewell, and with broken and heavy hearts, we began to march in the direction of Warsaw. We wandered for a week, in the cold and rain, not stopping to sleep or eat.

We passed towns, cities and villages, ad wherever we went, we saw terrible sights of w hole communities on fire – or already burned out (from the bombings). In some places, everything was in flames. We heard the terrible cries of pain, of sorrow, the hysterical crying and weeping of women and children. We became even more panic-stricken when we saw countless men, women and children lying dead. We saw their bodies on every road, in the streets and fields. We also saw countless farm animals – horses, cows, goats and sheep, as well as others – lying dead, side by side with the people. It is almost impossible to describe the destruction we saw. How tragic and terrible everything looked. Every one of us was shrouded in a dark cloud of terror and fear and, until we reached the gates of Warsaw, many thousands of men in our own ranks were killed by German artillery and by the bombs falling from all sides.

As soon as we neared Warsaw, the few of us who were left saw that Warsaw itself was engulfed in flames. However, the will to live did not let me become apathetic.

Upon entering the city I learned from some people that some others from my town were located at number 6 Twardo Street, I started to run rapidly in the direction f that street. When I got there I did find a number of people from our city, amongst them Joe Dzalishinsky, his wife, Sheindel, and her sister, Zelda Kujlevsky. We remained together for four weeks. Every night we slept in a different dark and dingy cellar. Almost every day or night some of these houses were burned to the ground. That is why we had to move constantly from one house to another.

We would feel our way in the dark, down the narrow, littered stairs, where we would throw ourselves on the grimy floors and try to sleep in those cold, airless cellars. Nagging hunger began

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To take its toll on us. We were unable to wash, as there was no water available. We could not change our clothes. If one of us managed to get a bit of bread somewhere, we would share it equally with the others.

During the time we were struggling to remain alive, bitter fighting was going on all around Warsaw, between the Nazis and the Polish Army. After four weeks of bitter struggle, the Polish Army was forced to surrender – and then the Nazis laid siege on Warsaw. As soon as they made inroads into the city, the Nazis began to plunder and steal, to torture and beat the population; they raped the girls and boys, men and women, young and old.

I can still hear the cries of pain and anguish, the last dying shrieks of those who were put to death so mercilessly. I can still see before my eyes the emaciated faces of the little children, their feverish eyes betraying their suffering. I still see before y eyes the faces of many of those who were butchered; our hallowed martyrs, who were tortured, suffocated, and burned to death. These hallowed martyrs are still visible to me in my mind's eye – and an intense hatred and burning anger wells up in me against the Nazi butchers. In this terrible atmosphere, our pent-up anger was suffocated, as were our cries of anguish and this was when, f or the first time, we saw our real enemy, the real face of Hitler's fascism, and danger and fear enveloped us, that we too might be drenched with blood.

We spent most of these perilous days hidden in the dark cellars. We were already famished. Luckily we found a sack of rice in a burning building, and our joy knew no bounds – at last we had something that would quiet our hunger.

When the battles in the streets finally ceased, and we were able to walk out into t e streets freely, I accidently met my beloved cousin, Moishe Shur. We hugged each other for joy. He was ravenously hungry and extremely exhausted from all that he had been through. We shared with him some of our cooked rice, and we also gave him a can of rice to take along for his father, who was also in Warsaw.

At the same time, all of us from Zdunska-Wola gathered together and decided to return home.

From our look-out spot where we were standing, we took our last glance around, at the one-time beautiful city of Warsaw. We beheld horrible scenes of destruction and a chilling deathliness, pain, misfortune and loneliness hovered over the whole city.

At that point none of us could ever again minimize the murderous deeds brought about under the bloody hands of the Nazi beasts. Standing and looking out at the stillness, each one deeply immersed in his own thoughts, we finally decided to leave Warsaw, leaving behind us the burning buildings, the thousands of tortured, maimed and annihilated people…

The sky became overcast, full of dense clouds from the heavy smoke of the burning city, and the heavy and noxious odor of death hung in the air for a long distance. Seeing all these things, we marched at a very rapid pace, engulfed in our own thoughts. Blood for a purpose, the more important the goal – the more blood is spilled – that was the doctrine of the Nazi butchers.

Engulfed in pain and fear, at long last we arrived at the city of Kutno, then the railroad station, where the German soldiers gave us toothbrushes and compelled us to clean the floors and the footpaths in the railroad station with them. We set ourselves to work, and shortly afterwards, one of them, evidently from the Gestapo, asked “Who among you can speak German?” My uncle, Yankele Shur stood right up and answered: I speak German”, and because he was such a small person, it evidently upset the Gestapo man, who thrust forth in a rasping, murderous voice: “You little devil…” He stretched out his hand, like a tiger's claw and gave my Uncle Yankel a terrible blow in the face. My Uncle Yankel became quite confused and didn't know what had happened to him. Standing close to my Uncle, I became very enraged, and with an angry, sad and heavy heart I swallowed the pain and anguish – and thought to myself – will the day of revenge ever come, when I can pay them back for the beating my Uncle took, for no

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reason at all, at the hands of the Nazi butchers. My heart was filled to bursting with pain and hatred of the enemy.

When we finished our work the Nazis let us go – and we set out once again in the direction f our hometown. On our tortuous journey home, Hitler's soldiers caught us several times and pulled us into various camps, such as the ones at Pushkov and Soratiev. These camps were already filled to overflowing with Jews – men, women and children – and their lives were already filled with loneliness and despair, with hunger and want.

Somehow, as we had done before, we managed to escape their clutches and once again resumed our wandering in the cold and rain. Exhausted from hunger and sorrow, we finally arrived in our city of Lodz. The sight of the city put us in a very sad state – as it was already four weeks since the German army had occupied the city. Everything resembled a place which had experienced complete destruction, and everywhere panic prevailed. In addition, there was terrible destruction.

Coming into my own home, to my beloved wife, Leah, I cannot begin to describe how great our joy was at seeing each other again. My wife did all in her power to calm me down and refresh me, after my arduous journey. My thoughts quickened and became revitalized as I began to think of our new life. It was only a year then, since I had married my beloved Leah of Janov, and we had only just begun to spin the plans for our married life.

At that time I made a living plying my trade as a tailor, and my wife, Leah, worked in a textile factory, thus, harmoniously, we began to establish ourselves in our new life together.

And now everything was in a state of collapse; everything was turned topsy-turvy, thanks to the Nazi beasts who had occupied Poland and our industrial city as well. All the handicraft shops and factories were at a standstill, and there was no means of earning a livelihood.

The German army began to rob and plunder the homes of the population. They raped and murdered people at will, in a most bestial and inhuman manner. They recruited people for various filthy jobs. I and a number of others were put to work carrying radios and other articles stolen from Jewish homes; we put them, in order, in the warehouses of their commando-quarters.

Their arsenals grew from day to day and became filled to overflowing with the household articles robbed and stolen from the people.

Each and every day brought new repressions and new and more distasteful acts; they terrorized the Jewish population without end.

As soon as the Germans allowed me a little freedom from the heavy work we were doing, I decided to visit my beloved parents and family in Zdunska-Wola. I bid my beloved wife farewell, and once again, stealthily made my way from Lodz. I took along a rucksack in which I had put bread, sugar, cereal and other foods for my family.

It was a cold autumn day and the cold penetrated into my bones. With a very rapid tread, I began to trek, in great fear, across the empty woods and fields. In the course of a day I arrived at the home of my beloved parents. The joy of my parents at seeing me alive once again, safe and sound, was boundless.

The entire family gathered at the home of my parents. I opened my Rucksack and distributed the little food that I had brought, giving a little to each one.

In the few days that I remained at home with my parents I witnessed some terrible scenes – how the German murders tortured and terrorized the Jewish population in my beloved city of Zdunska-Wola.

The last minutes and days of my stay in the city of my birth, with my parents and family, are memories, sharp as a knife – and thus have remained in my mind to this day.


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Memoirs of My Life – Part II

by Moishe Holender

In spite of all our hopes and most fervent prayers, that which all had dreaded came to pass, the flames of war began to spread and Hitler began his work, according to his well-laid, despicable, Master Plan. Ceaseless air attacks on cities, towns and villages, and on the fleeing people, caused a hellish torrent of fire, Poland was overrun and lay cut to pieces, as if drawn and quartered. The whole campaign lasted barely three months. The Military Regime in Power had already fled to Rumania, but Warsaw still fought and within the ranks of the beaten Polish Army, there was also Jews fighting. They fought bravely, but there was very little hope. Al was in vain. The enemy was too strong, tool well-armed with powerful weapons, with advanced technical know-how and equipment, and with the most modern motorization. Warsaw fought on for another ten days – but her spirit was broken.

Poland was conquered. She lived, bloodshed, trodden under the feet of the aggressor. This debacle was a painful one but basically and integrally it was a political, State defeat. The Yiddish-Polish Kibbutz began to suffer, not only morally as citizens of a conquered nation, but especially as Jews. The Nazis had declared a separate and special war – a war of physical annihilation.

The “new order” planned by truly the “sick” minds in Berlin, began its plunder and murderous activities with the greatest possible speed. First they proceeded to register all Jewish property; and shortly afterwards began establishing labor camps, where the Jews were sent to work under the most inhuman conditions, and from which many never returned. The Jewish population lived through torturous, painful days, during which shootings, took place and the burning f the Jewish Holy books and then all Yiddish books. These were common occurrences and took place in the open squares.

The Nazi “civilization” was on the upswing. On the 27th September 1939, the day Warsaw was in its death-throes, to the strains of Chopin's Funeral March, which was broadcast over the radio, I left the smoking, bloody capitol. After wandering many kilometers through burned-out cities and towns, beset by the constant fear that I would be caught by the Germans, I finally arrived at my beloved hometown of Zdunska-Wola.

I could not recognize the city of my birth. Jews appeared like shadows and avoided being seen in the streets. Jewish lives were considered worthless. My father and mother, during my absence, had become old shadows. I did not recognize my friends, certainly none of my acquaintances. They all had fear written in their eyes. Terror and dread for their futures dominated their feelings in those weighted days.

Together with many other young people from our city, I left this vale of tears, to the territory which was occupied by the Soviet Army in the hope of reaching Bialystock. T he road was a perilous one. Many dangers lurked all around us on the roads and on the trains. At every step we were in danger of being discovered. Jews were being thrown out of the trains and even pedestrians were dragged away to no one knew where. Many of our own Poles came to the aid of the Germans and they identified Jews and turned them over to the Nazis.

 

From Bialystock to Archangel

In those difficult days fraught with constant danger, we finally succeeded, through strenuous efforts, in reaching the border, the River Bug, and arrived safely in Bialystock. There I met some of my wife's family, my brother Hersh and his family, as well as many friends from home. We were able to catch our breaths for only a very short time. After a brief period, the Soviet Government sent us for hard labor to the Archangel Region. There we were

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employed as lumber workers until the outbreak of the war between the Soviet Union and Germany.

How strange is fate: this very exile, which was regarded by us as a terrible injustice, turned out to be the very thing which saved our lives. It spared us from the German Wehrmacht after the Russian borders were overrun and occupied by the Germans.

 

We Volunteer for the Front

With the outbreak of the German-Soviet war on June 22, 1941, we were, on the basis of an agreement between General Shikorski and the Soviet Government, freed from forced labor in Archangel and evacuated to Kerghizstan. In May 1943, I and many others were mobilized on the labor front and sent to work in a military factory near Moscow.

When I received the first news of the unbelievable Nazi barbarism against our fellow Jews, I could no longer rest, I volunteered to fight. I felt I had to make my modest contribution in the terrible struggle against the well-armed, technically superior inhuman German beasts.

 

In the Fight Against the Nazis

In September 1943, after going through a period of basic training, I became part of the First Polish Armored Brigade. There I met a number of acquaintances from Zdunska-Wola, among them, an officer, Elias Koninsky who had been a good friend of mine at home. This was indeed a pleasant meeting, which filled us both with joy. Within a few days, we took part in the famous battle of Smolensk. After that city was taken, we became a part of the First Ukrainian Front. We began a number of significant attacks, freeing hundreds of cities, towns and villages. Filled with bitterness and a strong desire for revenge against the Nazi “butchers”, we hurled ourselves forward totally disregarding the difficult conditions, frost, snow and violent storms. In this fashion we finally arrived at the Bug River.

After bloody fighting, we stormed ahead and forced our way across the river, thus taking the Polish cities of Zamosch, Chelm and Lublin. When we reached Lublin, we came face to face with the cruelest and most criminal horrors that had taken place at the death camp at Maidanek. Here, among other atrocities, we came upon half-burned bodies, newly slain and unburied Jewish corpses. Our ever increasing hatred and desire for revenge was again whipping up, at the sight of the unbelievable inhuman horror around us. We continued to pursue the retreating, devilishly stubborn, fighting Nazi beasts at top speed, until we reached the suburbs of Warsaw, at Praga.

In the struggle to free Praga, I was seriously wounded. After four weeks in the hospital, where I lay recovering from surgery, I learned that our forces were preparing to launch an attack on Warsaw. Notwithstanding the fact that I could barely stand, I volunteered and my commanding officer allowed me to participate in the storming and freeing of Warsaw on the 6th January, 1945.

 

Deep Sorrow and Victory

Banners were flying in the city. The Soldiers marched to the sound of joyous singing. Victory salutes were fired – but our hearts bled, for Jewish Warsaw was entirely destroyed. The tightly knit Jewish community, the Center of Polish Jewry, was a rich cultural and spiritual life had flourished, the inspiration and light for three and a half million Jews in Poland, had perished, and was completely wiped out.

Seeing the ruins of the Ghetto, viewing the empty streets and burned-out and bombed buildings, the heroic Jews of Warsaw appeared before my very eyes in all their glory, these were Bar Kochbas and Massada-giants who had lived, fought, and perished.

But there was no time for meditation, no time for dark and brooding thoughts, o time to face up to the endless rage that weighed heavily in our hearts for our already much-tried and martyred people. We forced ourselves to look starkly at reality and face up to it, in order not to permit the convulsive still-thrashing poisonous snake to catch its breath.

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We left the burning city behind us – our precious treasure had been destroyed. We continued our pursuit of the enemy, in order to break, once and for all time, his destructive powers. Thus, we arrived in the vicinity of Bidgoshah, and took the city after very heavy street fighting.

 

Shmuel Chaim Krull

In Bidgoshah, I met up once again with a very good friend of mine from Zdunska-Wola – Shmuel Chaim Krull, who was excellent soldier, and who had dogged the Germans step by step from the rear of Moscow. Unfortunately, our joy at seeing one another was of short-lived. Just two days after our meeting, this heroic, beloved landsman was fatally wounded by a German bullet. HONORED BY HIS MEMORY!

 

Concentration Camp – Orninberg

When on the brink of a complete debacle, when the “herren-folk” (master race) of the “New Order” and “Thousand year old Kingdom” were no longer able, even in their fondest dreams, to think of serious resistance to the mighty military force of the Allies, while the encirclement by the armored division's artillery grew daily, the movement of the defeated German-Teutonic Army became more limited, and finally, with nowhere to turn, they were forced to capitulate completely. On the very last day, and up to the very last minute these wild demented monsters would not let their Jewish victims go. They still shot, gassed and burnt them as long as they possibly could.

One of the most shocking and hair-raising sights we saw along the way, was in the city of Arninburg, which we took by storm and where we freed all those we found in the concentration camp.

There we came face to face with the most horrifying sights, a mound of dead humanity, bodies stacked like lumber, ready for burning. There, not far from the camp, they had established a soap factory. The entire production was based on the consumption of these dead human bodies.

Besides these gruesome sights, we also came upon a number of inmates, who were still alive, whom the “master race” had not had time to liquidate. But even those, the so-called “lucky ones”, were half-dead, stricken with contagious diseases, barely able to stand on their feet. Naturally, we did everything we possibly could to help these unfortunate victims. They received us with glazed and staring eyes – no longer able to believe that they were finally free.

Hearts filled with pain and sorrow, we choked back our tears, and left the camp in order, once and for all bringing an end to such agony and suffering. We set out on our last battle – to Berlin!

On May 1st, 1945, while taking an active part in the battle near Bremen, ten kilometers from Berlin, I was again wounded; covered with blood and riddled with bullets. I was taken off the battlefield to a military hospital in the city of Hohendorf, near Diesenthal.

On May 8th, while lying in the hospital, the joyous news reached me that Berlin, the fountainhead of the Nazi beasts had fallen at last, and that the Nazi Regime which had caused the destruction of half of Europe, had annihilated six million Jews and had planned to wipe out the entire Jewish people, this self-same Nazi Germany, the personification of the land of poets and thinkers, had finally surrendered.

Yes, Germany had surrendered – but what had become of us? Lying bound to the bed, seriously ill after numerous operations, all my thoughts and dreams were of my parents, my near ones, my friends, of my fate and the fate of the Jews at home in Zdunska-Wola.

I waited patiently for the moment when I could once more return there in the hope that possibly – just possibly – something might have been left there after the great catastrophe. After lying in the hospital for six weeks, I was given leave and took the first train to Poland and headed toward Zdunska-Wola.

 

In the Massacred City

I walked through the familiar streets in wonder, silently staring through tear-filled eyes. From the windows through which, not too long ago, one heard

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the laughter of Jewish children. Here the Jewish community had flourished. I was now followed by strange, cold, hateful eyes. I saw the stores in the market-place and recalled the sounds of Jews at work meeking out an existence, and a more secure tomorrow for their children and grandchildren. Now, all was Juden-rein (free of Jews), the worries were all gone, together with the worriers. Silently, trembling, I drew close to Lasker Street, to number 8, to the courtyard where I had taken my first steps, -- my yard, my home, my birthplace! Here I had played as a child and spent my days as a youth, dreaming of manhood – but now there was only the stillness of the grave.

The big Gerer Shtibl (synagogue) from where during the Sabbath and the Holy Days had drifted down soft, sentimental sounds, and where on Tisha B'Av – we had wailed in mourning for the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem; and had danced the happy, joyful dances of Simchath Torah – now it stood in ruins, everything had been stolen or desecrated.

I wandered around this be-plagued city and reached the Ogrodowa Street, where my uncle Yankele Shor once lived. I looked in through the windows and saw the house was inhabited. Even though the furniture inside was still the same, it was being used by strangers.

Finally, with a deeply wounded and bleeding heart, I arrived at the cemetery. There, amongst the graves of fellow Jews, amongst the desecrated bones of our hallowed martyrs, freed of the pressures and fears of inimitable surroundings – I wept unrestrainedly, letting the flood of tears loosen my helpless sorrow. I wailed my personal Kaddish, as a messenger of the few who survived the holocaust, for all those whose families were torn from their very roots, no one is left to mourn and say Kaddish for them.

Farewell, for all time, slain city of mine!


The Liquidation of the
Jewish Community in Zdunska-Wola

by Israel Tabacksblatt

In order to be able to visualize how this liquidation was carried out in the small towns surrounding Lodz, we present here as an example, the events as they happened in Zdunska-Wola. The same events repeated themselves in all the towns, with slight variations. The predominant factor was the brutal method used against the old people and the children. Everywhere the same bestiality – the same brutality, -- the same despicable deeds. Everywhere the same character with the “Janus-face”, Herr Hans Bubov, the butcher of tens of thousands of provincial Jews.

Almost a year before these events actually took place; it had become the subject of conversation in the town. This was due to the arrival of cards and news from the Kalish and Kanen regions. By various hints and Hebrew expressions they informed us that big vans were traveling around, picking up the old people, the sick and the children, and that they vanished without leaving a trace. Rumors began to spread, that in a section near Kalish, on the site of a sugar factory, there existed a crematorium in which the people were being burned alive. However, we did not want to admit to ourselves that such a rumor could possibly be true. So we began to dissuade one another in order to keep each others' spirits up, when we saw someone becoming very

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despondent, thinking that it might be true. However we could not free our minds from thinking such thoughts.

In a corner of each and everyone's heart there lay the question. Perhaps it is true? If so, what do we do? Especially when this news and the rumors kept on coming, without interruption. The reverse was really true. The signs and the facts were constantly being reinforced, showing that this was actually a planned action.

The signs given were:

  1. In all those places where they were supposed to have the “Expulsion” (“oiszidlung”), about five or six weeks prior to that time the Nazis would begin a 'counting' twice daily. In the morning and in the evening they drove the entire Jewish population out into a public square and called out each one by name.
  2. The Magistrates sent demands to the Jewish community to pay “Poll Tax” of 5 to 10 Marks for each “head”.
  3. Every person was then stamped with an “A” or a “B”.
  4. Buses arrived from the Zander Division, which would take twenty or thirty of the strongest men away in the direction of the crematorium, where they vanished.
This was followed, within two to four weeks, by the “expulsion” (oiszidlung). All the signs were characterized by the repetition of the same events. The atmosphere in the town became more oppressive. Sleepless nights increased. The feelings people carried in their hearts began to be visible on their faces. Friends queried each other with their eyes, asking for an answer to the question: What can be done? How can we save ourselves? Men stood around in groups and whispered to each other. Their wives wrung their hands and sighed. The children were fondled more than ever. The old mothers and fathers were quietly mourned (in the anticipation of their being taken away). People began to see terrible visions. The fears and foreboding of those around them began to have a terribly upsetting effect on the old and weak ones. They seemed to feel that it concerned them. Instinctively they became withdrawn. They began to feel that they were superfluous, that they were a burden to their children. They began to avoid walking in the streets and walked in the backyards, so that they would be seen less.

In every conversation concerning the acquisition of food and material for heating for a longer period of time, whether it related to the making or procuring of clothing or moving to another dwelling, the old fathers and mothers would say: “You don't have to count on anything for me, for soon I will be going into the ovens.” (That is what they called the crematories.) The younger members of the family tried to reassure them, but the old folks felt that they were being fooled.

For this reason, every rumor which was spread, that a Commission of the Wehrmacht was coming into the Ghetto, was met with great fear and trepidation by the old folks, who awaited their arrival with terror in their hearts.

The same would occur when the Elder in the Jewish community was called before the Burgomeister or before the police, and it became generally known, that whenever Dr. Lemberg was called (he was the oldest person in the Jewish community of Zdunska-Wola), it was not for a good reason, but rather it was the promise of terrible things yet to come. If this 'evil' did not have anything to do with the “expulsion”, then it was considered a good omen.

Truly factual information was received by us in the following manner: approximately 4 or 5 weeks before Purim several young people arrived in Zdunska-Wola from the Kohler colony, where they had barely escaped being caught and thrown into the black vans. Three of the men had even been to the spot where those who were caught had been sent. These three men had been part of the group of “30 strong men”. They related to the Jewish committee all the gruesome experiences they had been through. A certain K. who was later caught and hung in Zelon for trying to steal across the protectorate border, related that he had been employed as a digger and had, with his own hands, buried his own wife and 8-year-old daughter. After this experience he became very melancholy.

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All these facts, as well as those related by people who had managed to save themselves, convinced the Jewish Committee of the seriousness of the situation, and they decided to proclaim a slogan: “We must create work – employment will save us.” All means were taken, bother 'kosher' and 'non-kosher'. A number of representative took this very seriously and, in a matter of days, they had renovated the women's section f the synagogue in the Beth Hamedresh (house of worship), as well as in the Talmud Torah, which was built as an annexe to the Beth Hamedresh. The Jewish police were sent out to requisite all knitting and stocking machines. Long benches were placed in front of them, and suddenly it became a huge factory. The same was done with the tailor-shop and also with the straw shop. The fur shop was set up separately.

The people were divided up into various sections, and the work began to assume serious proportions. The city calmed down a little. But several days before Purim 1942, news again began to filter in from the surrounding towns that the Nazis were beginning to hang Jews and, at that time, the mood in our town was very grave. It seemed that the very air presaged the on- come of difficult days. The Doctor was being called too many times. The Committee also had too many meetings at night. Those people who worked closely with the Committee walked around crestfallen, and when they were asked the question: “Have you heard anything?” they answered with a deep sigh and a shrug of the shoulders.

“How should I know? Something is wrong. A heavy cloud is hanging over our heads.”

 

The Sunday Before Purim

In this fashion, the city lived through a very long and difficult day in expectation of something enormous, something dreadful. Fear of the oncoming night made everyone depressed. Though no one knew, and no one talked about it, everyone felt it in his bones that with the nightfall terror would descend on our city. Something would definitely happen. But what?

The dwellings seemed positively unlivable. No one had the patience to sit at home. Some went in to neighbors; others stood in front of their dwellings. People were, however, afraid to leave. Everyone had a desire to disappear for a brief time, to run away from one's own self for a while.

As soon as it grew a little darker, small groups began to gather in the yards. Everyone lent an ear. When someone came in from the street, he was asked for news. From little bits of information gathered here and there it became apparent that gallows would be erected. A shiver passed through all who heard. An impulsive shock hit the various groups.

The police were approaching – Jewish police – but no less dangerous than others of that calling. Where to? They go quietly, like shadows, up to a house and rap on the door. It doesn't take long and they lead out a sick man, who has been ill in bed for a long time. They hold him under both arms. He doesn't protest. He doesn't cry out. He only asks, in a weak voice: “Where to?” “Why?” It would have happened quietly if not for the family who began to understand that this call from the police was different from those before; and several women's' and children's' voices woke the neighbors, and it was passed from mouth to mouth that Sanitor had been taken. Additional news trickled in, that Nachum Elye had been taken and Jakimovitch was arrested. As each additional name was mentioned, some Jews counted: “How many was that?” They wanted the number to add up to 10, because that was usually the number considered to fulfill a certain “quota”. The ten Jews were escorted out of the Ghetto. The Doctor escorted them to the Protective Police (“Schutz Polizei”), where they were incarcerated. Relatives and friends of those taken were running around, shouting and tearing the hair from their heads.

On the Sunday morning there was turmoil in the city. Additional news – that gallows were being erected. For whom? Everybody was electrified. People fled from the shops. Everyone was on the street. No business was being transacted. In the Committees themselves – turmoil. The Bureaus did not function. People met in the street like mourners. No one greeted anybody. No one asked any questions. They all knew the answers. But

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everyone was restless and kept asking himself the question. Maybe it will be me?

The following day, on the Fast of Esther, a plan of action was adopted for rescue. The 'powers that be' in Lodz were approached to do all in their power to call off these acts of terror. For this purpose, the Elder of the Jews pledged to raise 20,000 marks, or a half-kilo of gold, or three months work for military purposes in the resort (?) areas. This all was to no avail. The preparations for the executive proceeded apace.

 

Tuesday, Purim 1942

When dawn broke, it brought a beautiful bright, sunny day, but the hearts of the Jewish people were weighed down by dark, heavy clouds. Shortly afterwards, many Jews began to walk the streets, looking as though they hadn't slept a wink, unwashed, everyone with the question on their lips: “what's the latest?” Everyone wanted to be convinced that possibly something would happen and that some would be saved.

But instead of hope for the better – there came an additional blow: all the men were ordered to be present at the execution. No one was to be permitted to leave the Ghetto to go to work. Usually, close to a thousand men left the Ghetto daily for work. The relatives of the new martyrs broke into a flood of tears, and the Jewish streets were filled with sobbing and wailing. A double guard was set up around the Ghetto. Patrols marched, in full uniform, with helmets and bayonets. They brought the rope and made the nooses. All preparations were made and tested around the gallows. They even tested to see that the steps could be taken away quickly. Ten grave-diggers were sent to prepare the grave.

A 30-man group of the “Shutz-Pollizei” (Protective Police) came into the Ghetto and circled the place where the execution was about to take place. At the same time, the crowds were being driven to the executive spot. Everyone felt that their presence at this spot was fraught with danger. Any slight provocation, a cry, weeping, every a sigh, could give them (the Nazis) an excuse to shoot.

Many thought of going into hiding, but at the last moment everyone felt that by not being present he would be committing a great moral crime, and, not waiting to be driven, they all appeared, with bowed heads and broken hearts.

About 3,000 Jews assembled at the place of execution. The proud bearing of the victims amazed everyone. A characteristic moment in a conversation among the prisoners' voices: “We do not want to be the sacrificial (lambs).”

One of those condemned to die stood up and called out: “Brothers, we are the lucky ones, we will be the martyrs. Let us not be cowards! “

The unwilling spectators were spread out in a semi-circle around the gallows, which was guarded by gendarmes, who were carefully spaced out every 4-5 meters, facing the crowd.

On the opposite side, there arrived a number of “guests”, to view the spectacle they were dressed in various uniforms, and included the Commandant of the Concentration Camp, the “Einzatz fuehrer”, as well as representatives from surrounding areas. The guests also included all the “worthy” masters of the city, in gala outfits, as well as a great many members of the Nazi organization, all in uniform, feeling very brave and gesticulating mockingly, while we, a black spot on the flag of a beautiful, bright March day, with bowed heads and muted glances, looked in all directions. Everyone knew what was going to happen, still we felt it was like a dream – a bad dream – a nightmare!

But the shrieking commands of the gendarmes, and the cries of the late-arriving Jews, who were unable to run quickly in the heavy snow and were being driven by the beats of the truncheons, brought us back once again to tragic reality. We saw that the hour of the execution was at hand.

Promptly at 10 minutes to 12 there arrived a heavy truck, from which the ten Jews were taken. The police brought them quickly to the gallows. A policeman was in charge of each condemned man, who at the demand of those condemned to death, drew the nooses tighter. The tension mounted. . . Tears welled up in everyone's eyes. There was repressed sighs. The leaders of the Jewish Committee quietly circulated amongst the on lookers, reminding and urging them to be quiet. In the

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distance, S.S. men were stationed, with loaded cannons, waiting only for the opportunity to 'establish order'.

The martyrs stood on the steps of the gallows, with the nooses round their necks. A deathly silence encompassed the captive audience. Even the Poles, who were not 'invited' to attend or were not officially permitted to be present, stood around, on the roof-tops of houses, on fences, up on trees, and kept up a continuous tumult, seeming to derive an evil satisfaction from our tragedy, even they, suddenly fell silent and held their breaths, in the final moments before the hangings.

The stillness was suddenly broken by harsh voices that called for “the eldest of the Jews”, Dr. Lemberg, his face black as coal, ran forward in an almost senseless state, to the officers in charge. Those few moments were used by the martyrs, who called out, as if from a Tribune: “I go to my death gladly, and hope that I will be the last victim in our city.” The second: “I am leaving a wife and four children, please care for them. Do not let them die of hunger.” A younger one called out: “Abraham, if you should remain alive, take revenge for this!” Several fainted.

In the midst of this, Dr. Lemberg came forward and called out in a heart-rending but firm voice: “The 'powers-that-be' have commanded that I inform you, that these people are being hung for not following instructions, and for sabotage, and that each one of us can expect the same for similar reasons.” The tone of those words became firmly engraved in the minds of all those who heard it, but would never forget it.

When one of the Germans gave the command for the execution to begin, the martyrs all called out “Shmai Yisroel”, but the “achad” was never said, because the steps were suddenly pulled away from under their feet and a heavy, compressed sigh echoed in the ghastly stillness, torn from the hearts of thousands of unwilling spectators.

One of the attendants walked over and announced that the ten Jews were dead. The assembly began to depart. The martyrs were left hanging till about 5 o'clock in the evening.

The gates of the Ghetto were thrown open and the German and Polish population came to view the “criminals”.

Throughout the city, outside the ghetto, huge placards were posted giving the names of those who were hung.

In Jewish homes everyone wept and, after a while, thing gradually calmed down. At the appointed time, at 5 o'clock in the afternoon, Nazi henchmen appeared. The martyrs were cut down from the gallows. The Sanitary Commission tried to make some small amends when they brought the bodies to the grave. No one was permitted to attend the burial. They were not permitted to bury the dead in the traditional “tallis” (prayer shawl). The Doctor placed the martyrs in a row and numbered them. The Committee tried, to a certain extent, to satisfy the families of the martyrs in some small way, thereby getting recompense from the families of those hung, for these small favors.

After this episode, the Jewish population in the town quieted down, and the impression was created that we had paid the highest price for the right to live, but it was all for nothing. This was still not 'enough'.

On a certain evening we had a new scare. The Gestapo from Lodz came. This very news was sufficient to make everyone change color.

This is what happened. When we had decided to save our fellow Jews from the gallows, the eldest had promised that we would raise half a kilo of gold or 20,000 marks. So they came to us about Passover time, for this money, and cynically declared that we owed the government this money for the hanging.

In the city comments were constantly being made on the causes for the hangings. The consensus of opinion tended to flow toward the belief that it was a result of smuggling spirits. Others believed that it was our remission from the “expulsion” of the aged and the children, which had been planned “by the powers that be”. This was a constant topic of conversation among the population of the Ghetto.

Since news of the “expulsions” in the surrounding towns increased from day to day, the Jewish Committee set in motion a series of activities to

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counteract this very dangerous, pending “expulsion”. It was clear, from the very first, that this “expulsion” was motivated by political policy, namely the annihilation of the Jews. Besides this, it was also motivated by economic reasons. Since the small towns were inhabited by a section of the Jewish people who were not productive, and of no value to the government, they carried out illicit trafficking and smuggling, which was a demoralizing factor in the economic life. It saw no purpose in being preoccupied with an entirely useless group of people, when these persons could become successfully productive in other work which would be of use to the war effort. These and similar motives were ascribed by various German elements as the reasons for the 'need' and 'unavoidability' of the “expulsion”. They underlined these motives by pointing out that in the towns which were productive; no such “expulsion” took place!

It was as a result of these reports that we came to the one and only conclusion that the only protection against such an impending “expulsion” was production. This should be the 'lightning rod', so to speak, which could save us from the impending storm, which we felt was already in the air.

One can readily imagine the charged atmosphere that prevailed. Thereafter, the action was directed to enrolling the older people and little children in the shops. Everyone wanted to be part of the shop. Everyone wanted to be assured of an employment card. The people began to look for protection by securing an important job at work, and there were certain cases when these positions were misused.

On the other hand, the work of the Germans in preparation for the “expulsion” went on apace. Commissions came almost daily. The city was feverish. Several days passed and no work came in, everyone became very depressed. Then there suddenly arrived a freight train with several cars, laden with pelts, furs and straw, and things immediately picked up in the Ghetto, there was work, so that must mean that the “expulsion” would not take place.

Such was the life in the Ghetto. Every hour brought different moods, different situations.

On one ordinary working-day, just before Shevuoth there was news! “Krifa” had given the Doctor a letter to arrest six people. The order was carried out with lightning speed. Those arrested were turned over to the German police. What for? Why? When? No one knew the answer. But everyone felt that something was wrong. Certain signs were in evidence that presaged something unpleasant.

It finally became clear the following morning. When there arrived an additional list of five names and it was learned that at one o'clock at night the German lieutenant was at the Doctor's house and there would be some new hangings.

This news was verified, and once again the same preparations were under way as before the Purim holiday, the difference being that last time they hung 10 men and now they had arrested 11 people. However, since among the 11 one turned out to be a woman, they decided to let her go free.

For this second hanging, even more stringent rules were set down for the Jewish population. This time the hangings were also to be witnessed by the women and children and everyone was worried that the women might break down and become hysterical, thus setting the stage for a provocation. However, it turned out otherwise, because the doomed men, by their determination and proud bearing, gave the population renewed courage. They climbed the stairs to the gallows chanting a song from the Yom Kippur service. It made an impression, as if a Cantor were singing before the blessed “Ark”.

This time the bodies did not hang very long. They were soon buried, and somehow it was arranged that a “tallis” was placed under the body of each martyr in the grave.

Immediately after the hanging it became evident that this was a “play for the devil” from the nearby town of Pobianitz which was employed in production, but nevertheless, the entire Jewish population was “expelled”. They were shipped to the Lodz Ghetto, and we began to feel that our position was also compromised, even though all sorts of efforts were being made to see to it that these terror-

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ist acts should be called off. However, on a certain day, the order arrived that we carry out an enumeration.

The counting in our town was done in a much milder fashion. If, in the surrounding towns, the Jews were compelled to assemble in one spot, and the counting was done by Germans, in our town the counting was given over to the Jewish Committee and the eldest had to report every morning and every evening to the Magistrate on the number of Jews in our town, how many died, how many were born, etc.

From the moment the command was given for this 'counting', it was clear that our fate was sealed: our expulsion was finally becoming a reality. The counting was done by special representatives of the Jewish Committee who visited all the homes in the morning. By 7 p.m. everyone had to be at home. Those who were not found at home had to have proof of where they had been at that specific time.

 

The Catch

This was the appellation given to the taking away of 30 of our strongest men. We had become used to the fact that they would take people at work, either from the house or from the workshop. But this time the men were caught in such a drastic way and with such lightning speed, that it shook the whole city. The means used to catch these men was such that it was a harbinger of more unpleasant things to come, especially since those who were 'caught' were taken away without leaving a trace. We paid out large sums of money to drivers (Poles) to make special trips to try and find out where this group had been taken, but to no avail. Each one pointed in another direction.

From the various rumors that began spreading throughout the town, it could presumably be deduced that they were taken to the real purgatory – at Chelmo. Everyone was convinced that this would be only a partial “expulsion” of the old, the sick and the children. Reminding themselves about the children, the blood in their veins began to curdle. If it were only the old and the sick – things would not look so black. But the children?

How could we possibly give up our children? In everyone's mind plans began to form of what to do. Some small consolation was drawn from the fact that the stamping (possibly tattooing of numbers) which was the last act before the “expulsion”, was postponed.

But, unexpectedly, on a certain Monday, the stamping was arranged. We knew already from the surrounding towns that it was good, if you were stamped with an “A” and that a “B” or a “P” was not good. The sudden order for the stamping renewed the terror. We knew that the process of stamping would take several days, followed shortly thereafter by the “expulsion”.

The stamping took three days and occurred in the following sequence: At mid-day, before lunch, only men were called from certain areas called from the houses by the Jewish police and were taken to the spot where the stamping took place. Everyone appeared before the Gestapo agents. One dictated and the other one stamped an “A” or a “B” on both breasts and on both hands.

The same stamp went on the control sheet which everyone had to fill out, containing his name, address, etc. After lunch, they took the women from this same area. On the 2nd day of the stamping, we began to realize that the whole business of stamping was purely cynical sadism on the art of the Nazi beasts. They undressed the people stark naked and beat them with canes and whips until they were covered with blood. The Jewish people were engulfed by fatalistic feelings. Everyone tried to evaluate the terrible situation. In order to quiet the people a little, the Nazis spread a rumor that the owners of the shops and the Burgomeister had gone to Berlin and were awarded by the “iron tickets”, that our city shouldn't be touched. As a sign that things would be quiet plenty of work arrived for the shops. Even night shifts were organized; sufficient food was sent in, such as potatoes, rice, etc. In general, it seemed as if the situation had improved.

One characteristic seemed to manifest itself in all small towns just before the “expulsion”. A certain number of workers had returned from the labor camps in Posen. One can well imagine the

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joy generated amongst the population by the return of 90 people, after an absence of 15 months. But everyone thought to themselves: “This should only be a good omen!” It was said that the Burgomeister had had them brought back, but in reality it turned out that they were sent back by the Gestapo because they were ill.

We also heard similar news from the surrounding towns of Lask, Shadek, Sieradz. News came from all of them that they were already all packed, and were waiting daily to be sent away.

It soon became clear that our “Angel of Death” would be the official Leader of the Lodz Ghetto, who would soon have his wish fulfilled by liquidating all the Jewish communities in the surrounding area. And thus it came to pass. After a whole series of bloody events, oppression and all kinds of punishment, finally, the last act was 'played', which exceeded any of the previous tortures and torments by far.

The hangman and liquidator of the province, Hans Buber, broke all records of villainy and cruelty during the finale of the action against our town.

 

“The Expulsion”

This occurred on the 25th August, 1942, about 12 o'clock midnight, when the entire Jewish population was driven from their homes and all were forced to assemble in the market-place. Everyone was forced to stand for the rest of the night. In the morning, the entire population was driven to the cemetery. There they made a narrow passage, and everyone had to pass through. First they left out the small children. Children who were held in their mothers' arms were torn away and thrown over the fence. Rubber truncheons rained down blows on the heads and shoulders, so thick and fast that blood flowed like water. Ten thousand people, driven at high speed into such a small area; many fell and were trampled to death by those following closely on their heels.

In the cemetery, the population was separated into two sections. One section composed of the younger element, numbering between 1,200 and 1,300 men, the rest of the population was squeezed into a very small area. This was the beginning of the real massacre. A large band of S.S.-men, with Bubov in command, pushed themselves into the crowd, with revolvers in their hands, and began shooting right and left. This created such havoc and such terror, that everyone started running in all directions. This was what the murderers were waiting for. Another troop, which they had previously prepared, began to fire at the helpless people from all directions, with cannons, driving them back into the cemetery. This brief encounter resulted in several hundred dead or mortally wounded. No one could help the wounded, and they died several hours later. The S.S. forced a number of the Jews to dig graves and bury the dead. When night came, all those still alive were forced to lie down on the ground, face down and lie that way till morning. In the morning a number of large buses arrived and began to remove the people. It took two days to transport all of them.

Food was entirely out of the question. No one seemed to mind it too much. About 8,000 people were transported to Chelmo, near Kolo, where they entered the portals of the famous death-camp.

On the third day they sent the balance of the Jewish population to the Ghetto in Lodz for slave labor. Of course, the Jews were robbed of all their possessions, money and jewelry, underwear and clothes; they were left naked and barefoot. Then they proceeded to perform one of their most terrible deeds. The S.S. packed them into freight-cars, 100 to 120 people to a car; slammed the doors shut and locked them with seven locks, without air or water, and instead of traveling two hours, they traveled 17 hours. No wonder that when these trains arrived in Lodz, they had 27 dead, choked for lack of air.

That Bubov had a good head. At the height of all these deeds, he did not forget about his openly courageous enemy, the eldest of the Jews, Dr. Lemberg.

At the last minute, like a wild animal, he ran through he trains, searching, and his voice boomed out: “Vie ist her, der schwein, der Lemberg?” “Where is he, the swine, that Lemberg?”

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He found him and dragged him into his private car; took him to the cemetery, and shot him there. He didn't trust this 'holy' task to anyone else, but himself, and with his own two hands, took revenge on his old and courageous enemy. This was how he eliminated not only his “enemies”, but a whole series of Jewish cities, which had rich and well-established communities. Tens of towns were wiped out without the raising of an eyebrow, without a single wavering of a heart.

This is how they fulfilled the wish and the command of their leader.


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Monument in Memory of the Martyrs of Zdunska-Wola,
Erected by Our Landsleit in Feldafing, Germany

by H. Holender

More than twenty years have passed since a small number of our Zdunska-Wola Landsleit managed to save themselves from Hitler's “Murder Machine.”

We have proceeded to recount a number of important episodes and events which took place during this tragic period, which has passed, but is not forgotten.

In order to do this, I had a number of talks with some of our Landsleit here in New York and throughout the United states, who were former inmates of various concentration camps.

I am grateful to all the Landsleit who helped me in gathering the facts which are included in this article, and did not specifically give their names together with these facts. This is, really, the main purpose of my writing this article, in order to portray and illustrate the high morale amongst the refugees – our Landsleit.

I feel that it is my duty as a human being and as a Jews, on the eve of the publication of our Zdunska-Wola Yiskor Book, not to omit important memoirs, as related to me by our Landsleit. As it seems, almost all the descriptions in our Yiskor Book, will be principally aimed at recounting the entire experiences of the Hitler period – the terrible holocaust of our time, which is so deeply engraves in our memory, in our hearts and minds – the tragedy of six million Jewish martyrs, including our own martyrs from Zdunska-Wola, who were tortured in such a brutal fashion. No, we must not forget nor must we forgive. Deep in our hearts our anger lies imbedded against the German race, against the fascist murderers who destroyed almost half of our people, by most brutal means in gas chambers and crematorias. It is, therefore, our hallowed duty to set this down for posterity with complete accuracy, and document our statements for the historic continuity of our people, so that our children and children's children shall have historic proof of the most unbelievable martyrdom of their ancestors which has no parallel in the history of mankind.

In order to enrich the historic value of the Zdunska-Wola Yiskor Book, I will give detailed facts regarding the German murderers and their military machine, which spread so aggressively across the European continent, annexing countries, taking cities, town and villages; bringing in its wake death, destruction and annihilation, as well as fear, hopelessness and tragedy to the helpless Jewish population.

The bestiality of the Hitlerite butchers was boundless and reached a culmination point in the

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gas chambers and crematorias where they so mercilessly tortured and destroyed millions of our Jewish people. The cannibalistic acts of these Aryan “supermen” were part of their method to use any means to obtain he materials they were lacking. They manufactured soap which was made from fats, drawn from Jewish corpses; soft beds of themselves, made of mattresses which

 

 
Women mourning the destruction of the Temple

 

were manufactured and processed from the hair shorn from the heads of Jewish women. Jewish men, women and children were lined up haphazardly, while the accursed Nazi racists plundered, raped, tortured and robbed at will.

It was in this fashion, with planned, measured, true German accuracy that all the concentration camps become Nazi murder-factories.

The living witnesses who remain relate how the German Zander-Command created these concentration camps which were extremely overcrowded, that is, there was not enough room for those that were still alive. People lay packed, side by side, head to foot. The urine-laden air and the filth, and the lice, helped spread disease. They contracted dysentery from the terrible food. The cold and the frosts, insufficient food, the inhumanly arduous work (hard labor), the bloody beatings – if you were unable to work – all added to the misery of the prisoners. The weak ones were weeded out and taken to the crematoria or killed on the spot, by a bullet or an injection of poison.

The numerous facts given to me by our townspeople (landsleit) are enough to make your blood boil. Besides the above, the murderous Gestapo used many other means to promote the extermination. In many of the concentration camps they would, almost daily, take masses of Jews, undress them naked, line them up against a black wall and shoot them from behind.

These terrible deeds which were perpetrated on our people represent a vale of tears. To this very day there remains evidence of these unbelievably horrible facts, which can be seen at the Museum of Death, set up at Auschwitz, as well as on various film-clips that were taken and are a record of the history of martyrdom in the Hitlerite period.

Heartbreaking memories were related to me in 1945 by many of those who were saved from the concentration camps, when the waves of the Allied armies fighting against Hitler advanced, and turned the tide against the enemy.

The Hitler Wehrmacht had previously spread its web over all Europe, in its aggressive desire to further its aim to conquer the entire world in the march towards the East, destroying and laying waste in every country they conquered. At the time when the allied armies launched massive offensives against the Hitlerite armies, the dream of an undefeated Nazi Germany began to fade, and the death-noose around their necks began to tighten, the fall of the Nazis was in sight. Hitler's defeat was just a matter of weeks or days.

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In t he last phase of the Nazi death-throes; in the last minutes that they still held as conquerors they didn't desist, even for a single, solitary moment, their sadistic plan for the annihilation of the Jews. When they were forced to retreat, they destroyed everything they had to leave behind; laid waste and crippled everything leaving permanent evidence of their deeds by creating a desert of desolation and death.

In orders to give vent to their bloodthirsty desires, during the last weeks of their rule, the Nazis gathered together the last remnants of the Jewish population that remained in the concentration camps and perpetrated the last “cleansing action”. They lined them up in rows and gave them the order to march. This was called the “Death March”. The Nazi Gestapo devils gruesomely triumphed over their helpless, forlorn, forsaken Jewish victims.

Fear was clearly written on the faces of all the prisoners. Then we filled with dread and a sense of hopelessness, death hovered over each one of them; like suffering sheep they were forced to participate in this “March”, all, hungry, half-naked, with clothes badly torn; chilled to t heir very marrow; without a drop of water to drink; they were driven day and night on this “March”. Those were pain-laden, tense days and nights. The Gestapo took vengeance on them; chased them; shrieked at them; threatened them and beat them with clubs and knouts, constantly cursing them.

Hundreds of the tortured Jews could not endure the punishment and beatings meted out on them by the murderous Nazis, and fell dead by the wayside, from hunger and disease which sapped up their last bit of strength. They fell like flies, one by one, and soon masses of Jewish corpses covered the road of the “Death March”.

And when the glorious day of Hitler's defeat arrived, there were very few Jews who survived that “Death March”. Those who were fortunate enough to remain alive, looked like walking corpses; their bodies were little more than skeletons; withered, shrunken and infected by disease.

When the Allies took control in Germany, they established many hospitals, where these sick, tortured people were put to bed and everything possible done to bring them back to health. These hospitals were immediately filled to overflowing. Many were ill with highly contagious, infectious diseases. Many were so ill, that their bodies could no longer react properly to the medication given them, and they, too, died prematurely.

The terrible nightmare of the Nazi hell was over, -- but the atmosphere of the Ghettos and the concentration camps still remained. The inner feelings of these former victims and their psychic reaction could not, for a single, solitary moment, make peace with their fate. The pain and anger which lay within each and every one of these unfortunate victims, who managed to survive, did not let them rest. Constantly they remembered their beloved families – fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers – who met their untimely deaths at the hands of the merciless Nazis. Even those who were nursed back to health in the hospitals, or those who were set free and did not need medical aid, were almost all, without exception, emotionally and spiritually broken, without hope or courage, and unable, in many instances, to begin a new life for themselves once again.

During that time, the Allied Command in Germany established “Displaced Persons Camps (D.P. Camps) for these, the living victims of Nazism. They established huge community kitchens to feed the people who were liberated. Not having other alternatives, those who had managed to escape alive from the Hitler Murder Machine became the inmates of these newly created D.P. Camps. One of these D.P. Camps was Camp Feldafing. Among the Jews of this Camp, were 30 men and women from our home town of Zdunska-Wola. This group from our town became a close-knit, intimate unit. They wept on each other's shoulders over the terrible losses they had sustained; told each other the gruesome experiences that each and every one of them had undergone.

This accidental meeting in Feldafing of a number of people from our old home-town was a tremendous stimulus for their broken spirits. This led to a rebirth of spirit and a renewal of friendships from their dim and distant past.

With a new will to live, they began to breathe

[English page 49]

more freely and to think. They held meetings and discussed questions of vital importance to all of them. Previously, their talk was depressively bitter regarding the mass butchery of the Jews, and of the Nazi blood-bath. They could not ease their mental pain and anguish, no matter how hard they tried. When they thought of the great Jewish personalities that once lived in the town of Zdunska-Wola, and were highly respected and honored this small group of our town's folk began to look for some outlet to their feelings and their bitter tears. At one of these meetings, they decided to erect a “Monument” honoring the hallowed martyrs of Zdunska-Wola. They specifically decided to erect this “Monument” deep in the heart of Germany, so that the “Monument” would remain as a permanent symbol and a constant reminder to the German Aryans of the terrible atrocities inflicted by the Nazis on the Jews of Zdunska-Wola and on the millions of our brethren.

It is with great pride that we mention the following initiators who were responsible for bringing about the realization and creation of this “Monument”:

Moishe Shur, Markl Warshavsky, Jopseph Dzalishinsky, Itzik Bitch and others. Considering the difficult circumstances in which they found themselves, and the fact that they had no financial means whatsoever, they still, with great effort and intensive and arduous work did everything in their power to realize this project.

Moishe Shur was a tremendous influence on a friend of his, from Lodz, David Boruchovsky, who was, at that time, the leader and director of the D.P. Camp. And he influenced the German City Government to obtain land for a Jewish cemetery, thereby making it possible to erect the first Zdunska-Wola Monument.

With guest toil and effort on the part of each and every person in this Zdunska-Wola group, they built the monument themselves. They carried the sand and cement, and, bit by bit constructed the huge stone. The inscription on the stone was carved by our own Zdunska-Wola Landsman, Luman, who was a stone-carver by profession. The inscription placed on the stone reads as follows:

“We perpetuate the memory
Of the fallen martyrs
From the city of Zdunska-Wola,
Who perished at the hands
of the fascists, Nov. 9 1942.
Honored by their memory.”

The surviving Jews of Zdunska-Wola,
Feldafing, Nov. 9, 1946.

As soon as the Monument was erected, this group of people began to search all the surrounding D.P. camps in Germany. The Unveiling of the Monument was arranged for the 15th day of Elul, 5706 (1946).

Zdunska-Wola landsleit poured in from all sections of Germany and over 400 gathered at the Displaced Persons Camp in Feldafing. Many other Jews came along, who had been forced to make the “Death March”; and they, too, came to participate in the dedication of the Jewish Cemetery at Feldafing.

At the unveiling of the newly erected Monument, the El Maleh Rahamim prayers were recited by Abraham Pakentreger, a brother of Yankel Shamesh of our city. So heart-rending were his prayers for the departed, that all the listeners, without exception, wrung their hands in anguish. Without restraint, tears quickly welled-up, as the wailing from the pent-up broken hearts rose to the very skies.

Moishe Shur, speaking at the dedication of the Monument, recalled the hardships attendant to its erection; reflecting that it was exceedingly worth the efforts and back-breaking toil for such a sacred mission that of finding hallowed ground to perpetuate the honor of our martyrs, who fell at the hands of the Nazi murderers.

This is the one spot where we can now come to mourn our great loss; where we can cry out our pain and despair and water the sacred ground with our burning tears.

Herman Goldberg, from Lodz spoke, and recalled the role of the Zdunska-Wola heroes who fought against the brute force of the fascists. Amongst those on that sacred list, he recalled the name of Zussman Beitch, who fell in the struggle of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and emphasized

[English page 50]

that his name deserves an honored place among the heroes in Jewish history.

Some of the other speakers included Jacob Susak and Urian Rosenberg, who added their voices in mourning for our fallen martyrs.

After the closing f the Yiskor (Memorial) Services, the entire assembly formed a procession and returned to the Feldafing Camp. There the new arrivals were made comfortable for the night. Joseph Rosenberg, Luzen-Ber's son, who was the camp cook, saw to it that no one should go hungry.

It was shortly after, that every Jew in the camp, by whatever means available to him, sought to leave the hated German soil as quickly as possible. The ground had been so saturated with Jewish blood, that it would for generations to come, be a symbol of all that is despicable of the so-called Aryan race.

Some of our town's-people did manage to reach Israel. Many migrated to America and other countries, with one desire in our hearts, to forget those bitter years. But the spilled blood and the cries of our beloved martyrs won't let us forget. We cannot rest. The great tragedy, from which we were fortunate to emerge alive, must not vanish as a bad dream. It is too monumental to be just lightly passed off as an episode in the dry pages of history.

In all our dedications, proclamations and commemorations, we must not fall into a state of melancholy, frustration and confusion. Those of us who have lived through the terrible destruction of our people, who have suffered the most horrible torture and bear the marks of it on our bodies and souls to this very day, those whose lives were daily engulfed in horror and dread in that Gehenna, should be eternally vigilant to prevent the reoccurrence of this awful tragedy.

All our former brothers and sisters in the concentration camps and in the State of Israel share this great responsibility, and have helped to erect monuments to our honored dead in many lands. Yet now, more than twenty years after the downfall of the hated Hitler regime, we find once more, especially in Germany, Nazism again spreading its murderous wings.

Jewish communities throughout the world have once more become targets for anti-Semitic hooliganism. Graves are being desecrated, synagogues. Jewish community centers and other Jewish buildings are being vandalized and the detested swastika smeared over the ruins.

This is the work of the same racists who were responsible for the deaths of six million Jewish martyrs, who tortured and put to death our beloved fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers. Their innocent blood must not let us rest. It is not only by recording our hallowed memories that we can achieve continuity of our history.

In order to secure our future, we must exert an active resistance with weighty deeds, such as the Monument which was erected by our townspeople in Feldafing. Another is the “Written Monument” – the recording on paper and publishing of our Yiskor Book (Memorial Book) – which should baring into full clarity the struggle for our existence as human beings and as Jews, and it must constantly be a reminder of the beautiful people of our town who are gone, but not forgotten, and their tragic death.

The honoured list of those who help build the Monument in Feldafing, Germany includes:

  1. Moishe and Bluma Shor
  2. Itzik and Hendel Leah Beech
  3. Mark and Ola Warshavsky
  4. Joseph and Sheindl Dzalishinsky
  5. Aaron Aronberg
  6. Abraham Korzoff
  7. Shema Krakovsky
  8. Mania Novotna
  9. Peisach and Joseph Rosenberg


[English page 51]

The Zdunska-Wola Society
and the Future of Our Desecrated Town

by Philip Rosenberg (New York), President of the Society

In this Yiskor Book, dedicated to the blessed memory of our town – Zdunska-Wola, whose Jewish population of 12,000 was so brutally annihilated by the Nazis, we cannot omit mention of an organization in New York, which is a living segment of our never-to-be-forgotten town in Poland.

When this Society was originally founded in 1902, it bore the name of “Zdunska-Wola Benevolent Association”. But in recent years the name was changed slightly to “The First Zdunska-Wola Sick and Benevolent Society”. The purpose of this organization, as reported in the “History of the Yiddish Landsmanshaften in New York” was to provide its members with social and sick benefits, burial and cemetery advantages and to send help to our old home-town.

In reality, however, its program was a much broader one. First and foremost, it was a Reception Center, a means of support to the Landsleit, who at that time, at the beginning of the 20th Century, came to the United States as part of the gigantic wave of Jewish immigrants from Eastern European communities.

Everyone who arrived in the United States was given a warm reception by the Zdunska-Wola Landsleit; greeted like a true brother and was made to feel as if he had indeed come home after a long and difficult journey. At the same time, every newly arrived Landsman not only brought with him the latest news from Zdunska-Wola but also a piece of the 'heart and soul' of the town where our cradles once stood, where we had spent our sweet and joyful youth, joyful despite the difficult life of the Jewish workers and craftsman, and the small merchants and trades-people living under Czarist rule.

During the early years the Zdunska-Wola Society brought all the Landsleit together at meetings or other functions, helped ease the loneliness and yearning for their families and friends left behind, and made life more bearable for them, here in t is new land, regardless of whether they worked in the sweat-shops or sought some other form of employment.

And when a Landsman was in need of financial assistance, the Society helped him. Most important of all, however, the Society symbolized the continuation of the life of our home town, for those who settled here in New York, and who assumed a new life conforming to the way of life in America, where we had planted new roots.

With the outbreak of World War I, the ties that connected us with our old home-town were broken, and in 1924 immigration from East European countries, including Poland, was almost brought to a standstill. But interest in Zdunska-Wola and the concern of our Society to the needs and fate of our town remained throughout the duration of the First World War, and even during those years when no communication whatsoever was possible. As soon as the opportunity arose, we stretched our fraternal hand across the sea and sent all kinds of aid.

In response to a request from Rabbi Leiser Lifshitz to help build a Talmud Torah in Zdunska-Wola, our Society raised a considerable sum of money and sent it for this purpose, as well as additional assistance to various other communal and cultural institutions in Zdunska-Wola.

A separate chapter of wholehearted and open-handed assistance by our Society was written after the terrible holocaust which the bestial Hitler and his Nazis unlashed on the world during the Second World War. Of the twelve thousand Jewish men, women and children in Zdunska-Wola, only a very small number escaped death. Some managed to

[English page 52]

survive the hell of the concentration camps and some were saved by fleeing to the Soviet Union.

During the time of this terrible destruction and annihilation, we in the United States did not forget our brothers and sisters in Zdunska-Wola, and waited for the moment when we could help those who had survived. Our Zdunska-Wola Sick and Benevolent Society organized a United committee, together with our sister organization “The Fox Rosenberg Family Circle.” In 1946, after the end of the war, the United Committee called a meeting at which leaders were elected to organize and carry on important relief work. The Committee consisted of the following beloved Landsleit: Zelig-Wolf Rosenberg (of blessed memory) Chairman, and his wife, Hodl; Philip and Pearl Rosnberg; Leib and Rachel Liverant; Max and Beila Kovitz; Irving and Dianah Feinkind; Jack and Sylvia Kurek; K. Rosenberg and his wife, Esther (of blessed memory). They were the very first to respond to the needs and cries for help from our near ones overseas. And as soon as it was possible to communicate with them in Poland and elsewhere, we immediately set about raising the necessary funds to help the survivors of our city. Packages of food were sent, as well as medication for those who were ill. We also undertook to help, as much as possible, those of our Landsleit who were forced to live in D.P. Camps.

The Committee succeeded in sending aid directly to the Committee in Zdunska-Wola through the good offices of our friend, Joseph Arnold, a member of our Relief Committee, who at that time (1946) went on a “journey of mercy” to Poland, so that the Committee could divide its aid among t hose returning from the D.P. Camps. Our assistance was in the form of money, medications and hundreds of pounds of clothing.

The Committee continued its Relief activities and sent to Zdunska-Wola over 3,000 pounds of clothing and 700 packages of food and much-needed medication to the various D.P. Camps.

At this point, we must also mention, the assistance given by our Society to newly-arrived Landsleit in the United States. In a number of instances we helped the new arrivals get started. We also succeeded in establishing a Relief and Loan Fund in Israel, which helped hundreds of our poor, sick Landsleit who arrived there after the war-years.

These, in brief, are but a few of the highlights of the activities of the Zdunska-Wola Society, better known as the First Zdunska-Wola Sick and Benevolent Society.

The history of this organization, which we call the “Society”, has been written in an honorable chapter on the communal activities on behalf of the Zdunska-Wola Landsleit in the United States, which covers a period of more than sixty years, and which, at the same time, made a significant contribution to Jewish communal life in America.

It is true that sometimes our work was extremely difficult. However, we were rewarded in the knowledge that all was accomplished with devotion and responsibility; a feeling that was shared by every member and official in our organization.

It is with a feeling of pride and justification that we say that no matter how great or how small the accomplishments and activities of our Society, it did its utmost to uphold the dignity and humane traditions of the unforgettable city of our birth – Zdunska-Wola, in whose everlasting memory, this volume has been dedicated.


[English page 53]

Day of Liberation[1]

by Shimon Klin

The Solemn Days we have just passed through bring to mind other “Days of Judgment” – fifteen years ago.

At the beginning of April 1945, sensing defeat, the Germans began liquidating a number of their concentration camps and sending the remaining prisoners into the “model camp” at Theresienstadt. Most of them were driven by the S.S. on foot; others came in wagons.

By order of its High Command the S.S. drove their Jewish prisoners at a jog-trot from Buchenwald, Dachau and other camps. The S.S. rode motorcycles and bicycles or were seated in jeeps or small trucks. The sick prisoners were the first to be killed. Others collapsed from hunger; they would be killed immediately unless they got up at once and went faster.

My group was luckier: we came by train, through even among us many died, their stench filling the wagons. The S.S. refused to remove the bodies; they had received orders to fetch everyone in the wagons to a destination that later proved to be Theresienstadt.

Some of the prisoners managed to jump from the wagons and escape. They were lucky in that the S.S. guards were elderly and more tolerant than indoctrinated youngsters. They were also influenced by the atmosphere of approaching liberation and consequently less strict.

We arrived at Theresienstadt at the end of April 1945, under the guard of the Hungarian S.S., to be received by Czech police and German and Czech Jews, who had already been through a long spell at the camp. The Jews took our dead from the wagons and administered first-aid to the sick, some of whom were taken to hospital. Others were placed in Kasserne (Armouries), and received no medical attention whatsoever, the overflow being so great and the medical personnel so few.

While we were being led through the Ghetto, Czech Jews watching from their windows dropped down lumps of sugar to us tied to pieces of string and waved and called out to us. We were surprised to see how well they looked in comparison with us. They seemed well-fed and they wore suits and ties; we, on the other hand, wore the K.Z. pajamas; our feet were swollen, our faces drawn.

I was sent to live in a barrack together with other young people. There was a pleasant courtyard around it, with flowers and trees. Every day our food was brought to us: thick soup, meat, vegetables and a Buchte. We ate from our concentration-camp mess-tins. Our meals were very gay, for we had long since forgotten the taste of decent food.

There were many invalids and Mischlinge (children of mixed marriages) at Theresienstadt. The invalids were Jewish ex-servicemen with honorable records from the First World War. These invalid ex-servicemen had special privileges, which included easier work and longer residence at Theresienstadt before being sent off further east. They propelled themselves around in wheelchairs. The Mischlinge had a high opinion of themselves, they would say “I am not Jewish, I am a “Mischling.” Several German-Jewish women told us their husbands were in the Wehrmacht or S.S. They would worry about their husbands' fates after the war. My barrack was near the barbed wire, and I watched many non-Jewish husbands creep under it or bribe the Czech police guard to take letters or parcels to their Jewish wives.

The German aim at the end of the war had been to gas the inmates of Theresienstadt and then to cremate them. After the liberation of the camp rumors circulated that the officer in charge of the planned extermination had contacted the Swiss Red

[English page 54]

Cross and advised them to inform the Russians to avoid Prague and make for Theresienstadt before he was forced to carry out his orders. At any rate, the mass extermination was never carried out.

On the day of the liberation of Theresienstadt, allied planes were continuously circling overhead. We could hear machine gun fire and heavy explosions. Such concentrated fire was directed at the Nazis hiding in the mountains around Theresienstadt that they abandoned their emplacements and ran out with their hands up.

We felt that liberation was near, but no one knew who our liberators were to be. Some said the Americans, others the English, the French or the Russians. Others again maintained that the Swiss Red Cross would occupy Theresienstadt because of the typhus raging in the camp. The barbed wire around the ghetto was covered with placards warning against typhus. Czech police prevented anyone from entering or leaving the ghetto.

Not knowing who our liberators were to be, we hoisted first the Stars and Stripes, then the Union Jack, then the Tricolor and lastly the Red Flag. This flag-changing went on throughout the day. All this time people were dying of typhus.

In the evening we heard cheers and the rumble of tanks. We ran from our barracks towards the barbed wire, but the Czech police drew their pistols and forced us back. The tanks were those of the Russian army and they were being cheered by the native Czech population. The Czechs were holding Russian and Czech flags and shouting “Long live Benes and Masaryk.” Prisoners also ran out from their enclosures. We embraced one another though we still found it difficult to believe freedom was so near. The whole night we heard the rumble of tanks and the cheers of the local Czech population. The Czech police, however, wouldn't let us out because of the typhus in the camp and the Russians wouldn't enter for the same reason. In the morning Russian soldiers carrying sub-machineguns approached the barbed wire. I wanted to r n out to them but a Czech policeman pulled me back by the collar. I called out to a Russian, “Tovarish, I want to get out and the policeman is stopping me.” He ran quickly towards me, rammed the policeman in the stomach with his sub-machinegun, swore at him, and took me beyond the wire. At this, everyone else began to break out.

The Russians gave us 24 hours to take any revenge we liked on any Germans we could find. Germans were running around with their hands in the air, shouting “I'm not S.S., I'm Wehrmacht.” At the side of the road outside the camp laid overturned German tanks and charred German soldiers, resembling roast geese. Abandoned anti-tank weapons lay in the ditches. Many prisoners used them to settle old scores. I took off my camp uniform and dressed myself in a uniform taken from a rucksack: a brown Hitler-youth blouse, blue shorts, and a German army-belt inscribed “Gott mit uns.” Especially anxious to take revenge was a young German gypsy who had run out from the enclosure. I asked him why he was so intent on his revenge when he was himself a German. He replied, “It's true, but I'm a gypsy also, and you don't know what they did to us.” He ran backwards and forwards on the road leading to Leitmeritz, but he was too innocent to know how to hurt anyone effectively. Each time a German passed he would give him a tentative kick or push, or swear at him.

Russian Jewish doctors, most of them women, had arrived together with the Army. There were also many Jews in the Intelligence Service, and other high-ranking Jewish officers made an imposing impression with their fine uniforms and rows of medals.

The Russian military governor, a Major Khurzmir, assembled all the Jews in the court yard of the Dresner Armoury, and addressed us from a balcony, a Jewish delegate from the Polish Government standing at his side. Polish and Russian flags were hoisted at the same time. He began his address: “Polish Jews and Jewesses! Return to your homeland, to your own soil, to your houses, to your property.” The Polish delegation continued in much the same vein. I felt that I had no reason o go back. There was already a strong Zionist movement in Germany, preparing groups for Hachshara

[English page 55]

there, to be followed by emigration to Palestine. Children's homes were former at Theresienstadt, where we were taught a little Hebrew. We were left undisturbed by the Russians.

At first there were rumors that the youth groups were going to Switzerland, but after a while it became quite clear that we were going to England. On hearing this, the Polish Jewish delegate raced round on his motor-cycle, and warned us that anyone caught wandering outside the camp gates would be sent back to Poland. Major Khurzmir took us to see an anti-capitalist film demonstrating the exploitation of workers in America. Czech soldiers, meeting us in the street, asked whether it was true we were going to England. When we answered “Yes,” they said, “Why England? Russia is much better.”

The time approached for our journey. Three hundred of us were taken to Prague by train, and from there to England in R.A.F. bombers. We said goodbye to everyone. The most difficult part of our journey was the departure from Theresienstadt. It was the place where we had been given our freedom.

  [English page 56]

 
David Clack, first President of the Zdunska-Wola Society in New York

Footnote

  1. Reprinted from the “Jerusalem Post”, October 14, 1960 Return

 

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