[Column 29 - English] [Column 153 - Hebrew]
By Dr. S. Altman
In eternal memory of my dear parents, sisters and brother
In Zloczow, Jewish life pulsated and grew steadily. Despite its comparatively small population, this town played an important part in shaping the Jewish community of Eastern Poland. Its memory is dear to all those who were born there and equally to those, like myself, who came to settle.
Each survivor who miraculously escaped the hell of the Holocaust has the sacred duty of recording every detail known to him of the many crimes committed against Zloczow Jewry by expert Nazi murderers with the aid of Ukrainian hooligans.
We must fulfil this sacred duty and unwritten testament of those who, helpless, defenceless, with the Shema Israel on their lips, made a last request of those who might survive; that they should tell the world of their unspeakable suffering and tragic martyrdom. It was their last wish that like those wrecked at sea who leave their message in bottles floating, no man knows whither, we should tell uribi et orbi what befell them in order that humanity in general and Jewry in particular should never forget.
Accordingly, I have set out to give an objective account of the terrible events that befell against the back ground of my own experiences during this period of Hell on Earth.
Recording this terrible tragedy brings back the saddest and the most painful memories. They emerge up from every cranny of my soul. These memories I cannot suppress. They haunt me by day and by night. One memory chases the other chaotically and it is only with great effort that I can give even a fraction of that unending and inhuman suffering. Humiliated, degraded, beaten, tortured, starved, they were finally murdered by the cruel Nazi beasts with systematic relentlessness of a satanic robot which implemented the destruction to the last detail.
Neither riches nor fame, neither wisdom, common sense nor intellect gave any chance of survival. The 20th Moloch, in the heart of civilized Europe, pitilessly swallowed its hopeless victims. There was not a single ray of hope and there was no help. The world looked on with indifference, observing that dance of death as though it were bewitched.
1. Before the Storm
The whole Jewish population of Eastern Poland was transfixed with terror on 22nd June, 1941 when the trembling voice of Mr. Molotov, then Prime Minister of the U.S.S.R. was
Heard announcing that Hitler, the ally of yesterday, had abruptly broken the treaty of friendship between the two countries and, without formally declaring war, had ordered his armies to cross the frontiers so recently established between them. Those who did not believe Stalin's propaganda about the Soviet military might knew that Russia at first had little chance to offer successful resistance against the well-equipped and highly disciplined German armies. The danger of immediate invasion was particularly great in those parts of Poland like the eastern provinces, where the local population was largely hostile to the Russians.
The Soviet troops retreated in panic unable to meet this sudden planned attack. The situation grew rapidly worse. Three factors accelerated the deterioration:
Not only the Russians but also the Jews were anxious to escape the looming menace of the German invasion but the Jews had neither the opportunity nor the possibility of running away. Only a handful, a small number of unencumbered families managed to escape to Russia. These were mostly communist in their leanings and sympathies.
At dawn, within ten days of the outbreak of the war, on July 1, the first German patrol entered Zloczow after an intensive air raid. The Jewish population were hidden in cellars and improvised air-raid shelters and awaited developments in dread. The local and neighbouring Ukrainians began to pour into town to welcome the Germans. They covered the buildings with swastikas and their national yellow-blue flags. Representatives of the Ukrainian intelligentsia flocked into the streets and demonstrated in support of the conquerors. They all pinned notices on their lapels reading: Ukrainian speaks German and gives information. These offers of information cost the Jews dearly.
Within 24 hours, hordes of villagers began looting Jewish property. Rumours of rapes of Jewish women and the cruel beating of men began to spread. Very soon, there were corpses lying in the centre of town. Among the first to be identified were those of 2 feeble-minded brothers nicknamed: Jopaks whom the Germans had killed on the spot.
Warned by rumours and by clandestine radio and press reports of what the Nazi were capable of doing, I suggested to the male members of my family (i.e. my father-in-law Markus Shnapp and my two brothers-in-law Kuba and Mundyk) that we should flee together to an acquaintance of mine, a certain Mr. Olejnik, half Pole and half Ukrainian, who lived in a little house on the outskirts of Zloczow. My father-in-aw, an invalid of World War I and my brother-in-law opposed my suggestion insisting that they had nothing to fear. I therefore took my younger brother-in-law with me and we went to Olejnik whose little cottage stood at the end of the Ujejski Road near the military barracks on Jablonowskich. Our host gave us a room and told us that
He would be away the whole day and would only return at night to sleep. He warned us to beware of his neighbours and advised us to keep out of their sight. After about three hours my brother-in-law grew bored and restless and decided to return home against my advice. I resolved to remain where I was. Suddenly, a terrific noise was heard that was caused by the arrival of a company of S.S. troops. It soon became clear that this was part of a special murder squad. Peeping cautiously through the window, I saw a German patrol approaching the house next door. At the same time, I heard voices shouting Are there Jews or Russians here? (sind hier Juden oder Russen?). One of the soldiers started beating up a man standing on the doorstep, taking him to be a Jew. Seeing this, I decided to leave my unsafe shelter. As I left the house I fell straight into the arms of another S.S. patrol which was already belabouring one victim, Dr. Opperer.
Dr. Opperer and I were driven to the barracks where some sixty Jews were herded in the yard. None of us knew why we were there. We were all sure that we were going to be shot. At the height of the tension, a sergeant-major ordered us to clean up the barracks' yard and the road leading to it. We all breathed a sigh of relief. The spectre of death which only a moment before had been hovering over us, now vanished and hope was restored. How vain was this hope and how short lived!
After a few of us were given tools, we were led to Jablonowsky Street and ordered to fill the pot holes in the road. Work started with shouting, beating and kicking. Those without tools and they were the
Majority had to collect earth and stones with their bare hands and carry them in their coats to the pot holes. The work had to be carried out at a rate that no human being could possibly keep up with just a pair of bare hands.
A wild scene followed. I was one of the lucky few who had received a spade. Who would have believed that this seemingly insignificant fact would save my life and that of Dr. Opperer? With my spade, I doubled and trebled my capacities in order to shovel the maximum amount of earth for those without tools at my side. Streams of sweat blinded me, my heart threatened to burst but I could not relax for a moment. On the contrary, I had to work faster and faster shovelling earth for those beside me for they were being mercilessly spurred on and beaten. The sergeant-major who stood nearby watched this scene with unconcerned satisfaction. When he left us, he remarked cynically: Work makes one happy and paves the way to eternity (arbeit macht Freude and ebnet den Weg zur Ewigkeit).
Dr. Opperer who worked near me could not keep up with this monstrous pace because of a recent illness. A soldier who had meanwhile replaced the sergeant-major gave vent to his brutality and tormented Dr. Opperer because he was so slow. He beat him with the butt of his gun and kicked him several times with his hobnailed boots until the poor man reeled and collapsed. The soldier would have killed him had not the sergeant-major returned unexpectedly and sent him back to the barracks. Without a moment's hesitation, I approached the sergeant-major and explained that Dr. Opperer had been a major in the Austrian army and had received the highest distinctions. As such, I appealed to him to let the poor man go home and allow me to do his work for him.
On hearing my request, the sergeant-major asked me how I came to have such a good command of German. I told him I had studied at a German school in Bielsko (a town not far from the German border) and had a school friend who looked very much like him. Carl Jenkner was his name. To this he answered: It's a pity you are a Jew. You Jews are dirty people. In Beuthen you committed atrocities on the Germans. You cut off their noses and ears and put out their eyes. We have to the Jews differently; a few slaps and kicks at the most and afterwards tra-ta-ta with the machine gun!
I plucked up a little courage and told him that his information about the Jews was ill-founded. Compared with other nations, I said, there are few sadists and murderers among Jews. But, he assured me with great conviction, that what he told me was the very truth, for he had been briefed about it in his S.S. officer training course.
After a moment, he turned to Dr. Opperer and me saying: off with you and quickly! It is going to be hot here today (meaning that a day of bloodshed was ahead).
Not only did he allow us to leave but he conducted us to the end of the lane in order to prevent molestation by other soldiers. I brought Dr. Opperer, who could hardly walk, to the home of his relatives and quickly returned to my old shelter, distressed and downhearted. This depressing experience, the sight of humiliation, bestiality and brutal violence, shocked me to the very depths of my being. But it was only a trifle to what was to come later on.
I fell into a state of torpor and at last sleep overcame me. But not for long. After a brief nap I was suddenly awakened by the rattling of a machine gun nearby. It
was 8 in the evening. Then, just as suddenly, the shooting stopped. Half an hour later, Olejnik returned and told me that on his way home he had stopped at his neighbour near the barracks and saw a group of Jews being machine-gunned while at work. That was where I too had worked that morning. I suddenly realized how close to death I had been. Yes, Providence had saved me from certain death that day.
The next day I spent in anguish because of the further bad news my landlord had brought - the uncovering of a mass grave in the Sobieski Citadel causing a great tension in town. The grave was said to be that of Ukrainians murdered by the Soviets. What followed soon confirmed our worst fears.
2. Mass Slaughter
Simultaneously with the planning of the military campaign against the U.S.S.R. in march 1941, a secret understanding to form four units of S.S.-Einsatzgruppen was reached between the R.S.H.A. (Reichs-Sicherheitshauptampt) and the O.K.W. (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht). The moment any military action was to begin, the four main German armies were to be joined by one of these four S.S.-Einsatzgruppen whose task.
was mass extermination of unwanted elements especially the Jews. The units were recruited mostly among thieves, bad characters, criminals and degenerates who were specially trained for their brutal assignment.
Einsatzgruppe C was sent with Dr. Rash at its head to Eastern Poland. One of its units under S.S. Hauptsturmführer Schultze entered Zloczow and occupied the barracks on Jablonowskich Street.
As mentioned earlier, the Ukrainians had ambushed the retreating Russians and directed the German Air Force from secret radio-stations to the Russian points of concentration. In order to prevent these activities and in retaliation for this treason, the Soviets jailed a number of Ukrainian intelligentsia who were kept as hostages in the ancient Sobieski Citadel. Before their retreat, the N.K.V.D. had these hostages murdered and buried in the courtyard in a mass grave. On Wednesday 2nd July, these graves were found by the Ukrainians and they boiled with anger. In the meantime they had formed a temporary Executive Committee which in due course was to become the nucleus of the local Ukrainian Government. The members of this committee were: Antoniak, Dr. Gilevicz, Oleskiewicz Symczyszyn, Mrs. Wanio, Dr. Jojko, etc.
The Executive of this Committee went to the Citadel and identified the murdered victims, included Dr. Grosskopf and his brother-in-law Gruber. They had been arrested by the Russian N.K.V.D. before the outbreak of the German-Soviet war. The first spontaneous reaction of the Ukrainians was to turn their fury on the Jews who were now regarded as Soviet sympathizers. They called a mass meeting at which they accused
the Jews of murdering the hostages. After inciting the mob to revenge, they sent a delegation to Hauptsturmführer Schultze of the S.S. Kommand to ask for formal permission to launch a pogrom against the Jews. Schultze happened to live in the house of a Ukrainian clerk named Lewitski in Kolejowa Street. His daughter, whose Polish husband was in a German prison, became Schultze's mistress. During a walk near their house where the cemetery lay, she drew his attention to the Mausoleum erected in 1918 in memory of Poles who had been murdered by Ukrainians. The mausoleum, she alleged, commemorated the murder of Ukrainian patriots by Jews.
The day of revenge was set for July 3, 1941. The Ukrainian mob was given a free hand. The descendants of Chmielnicki and Petlura proved worthy of their Nazi patrons. Crowds armed with axes, hatchets, shovels, iron bars, hammers and fire-arms simultaneously stormed all the Jewish streets and houses, dragging their occupants into the streets. The pogrom began from pre-selected places like Targowica, the old market square, the Lwowska Street and the courtyard of Lippa Mehr (Klonowicza Street) but the main centre of operations was the Citadel. Hordes of Ukrainians and S.S. men swooped down upon their defenceless victims with whatever they had in their hands. The Jews could not even hide. Those who tried to escape were forced back by new waves of attackers. Ukrainian neighbours with whom only the day before there had been friendly or business relations were now relentless enemies. They lured Jews into their homes only to hand them over to the savage mob. When the wave of terror eventually died down, people were found drowned in latrines and sewage holes, some with heads chopped off. A number of scoundrels had caught Rabbi Ellenberg, tied him to a
Motorcycle with a rope and dragged him up the street. The Rabbi, with his tongue hanging out, had to keep up with the motorcycle to the delight and wild laughter of the street urchins. As the motorcycle gathered momentum, the venerable old man fell from exhaustion and his body was dragged along, mutilated and unrecognizable.
In another part of the town, a number of Jews were forced to exhume the Ukrainian corpses from the grave, wash them, carry them out of the yard and arrange them in rows. Many, women and children among them, could not go through with this terrible ordeal and fainted in with the horror and stench. They were mercilessly beaten and killed on the spot. Meantime, others were brought and ordered to jump into the now empty graves where they were machine-gunned by the S.S. men. Without bothering whether the victims were alive or dead, they were covered with new people and the procedure was repeated. The screams of the wounded and those buried alive rose to heaven but none heeded them. On that day Jewish blood flowed like a river.
The perfidy of the Ukrainians may be illustrated by a single incident. Among those driven to the Citadel were Joseph Zimmer and Dr. Moses Eisen. A Ukrainian acquaintance of theirs pulled them out of the mob and sent them home. He asked them to fetch strong ropes which he said he needed badly. Trusting their acquaintance these fine men returned with ropes instead of hiding away! They were politely thanked in the presence of the spectators and hanged with the ropes they had brought.
Among those driven to the Citadel was my father-in-law Schnap, my younger brother-in-law Mundek, soon followed by my older brother-in-law Kuba and Wilo Freimann. Kuba barely had a glimpse of the mutilated
bodies of his father and brother when he was ordered to jump into the grave. He and Wilo had the presence of mind, rare in such situations, to thrust themselves in deep among the corpses around them and escaped with slight wounds. A few others escaped in the same manner namely: Dr. Sternschuss, S. Wiederhorn, M. Laufer and Abraham Rosen.
The massacre went on from morning till late that afternoon. Piles of corpses lay everywhere in the yard and by the mass grave. Nobody interrupted the mob in its diabolical work. Then suddenly something like a miracle happened. A strong wind swept the town. Dark and heavy clouds suddenly covered the blue July sky, followed by heavy rain.
The heavens seemed to weep with the bereaved mothers, widows and orphaned children as though joining them in their great sorrow. Amid the thunder and lightning, the storm grew and the rain turned into a cloudburst. The murderers were forced to disperse and the slaughter ceased. The gang tried to resume their slaughter after the rain had stopped but an unexpected development frustrated them. A big military unit headed by a General arrived in town. At the sight of the bodies, the General ordered the slaughter to be stopped. S.S. Hauptsturmführer Schultze, head of the Death Platoon objected at first but eventually had to obey. The Ukrainians, of course, did not like this turn of events and sent a delegation to the General to persuade him to change his order. They were so sure they would get the order withdrawn that they did not allow the fresh graves in the Citadel to be covered or the scattered corpses in the yard to be collected. But their hopes of liquidating the entire Jewish population at one stroke were disappointing for neither
the General nor the District Commander acceded to their demand.
Meanwhile, night fell. As I have already said, a few people who covered themselves with dead bodies escaped death from the bullets and hand grenades but the danger of being buried alive still loomed. The downpour was their salvation. Under cover of night they began to crawl out from under the dead. There was only one Laufer who did not succeed in escaping. As he tried to rise from the pile of corpses, he found that the arms of a corpse in rigor mortis had caught his leg so tightly that he could not extricate himself. His companions trued to help him but the sound of approaching footsteps frightened then and forced them to leave him to his fate.
While death was stalking the town, I was hidden in the house of Olejnik, awaiting my host and news about the situation. At three in the afternoon he returned, completely transformed. He told me abruptly that I could not remain in his home. Seeing the yellow-blue ribbon on his coat, I understood his mood and did not try to plead with him. In order to get rid of me as soon as possible, he did not tell me the news of the slaughter at the Citadel or the situation in town. As I was about to leave, a downpour began again. Taking not notice of it, I walked to my own home safely through the deserted streets. As my mother-in-law and wife were telling me of the abduction of my father-in-law and my younger brother-in-law, they noticed an S.S. man approaching the house. I quickly ran down the staircase and hid near the entrance to the cellar. From there I heard the soldier yelling for Kuba and me to come out of hiding. Obtaining no response, he threatened to shoot my wife and my mother-in-law. We learnt afterwards that our concierge (a Ukrainian woman) had told the German that
Only my father-in-law and my younger brother-in-law had been taken away. Luckily, an officer seeking living quarters, arrived at that moment and ordered the .S. man to leave the women in peace otherwise he certainly would have shot them.
In the cellar I found young Brummer, the son of the only musician in town who had managed to escape the slaughter in Lipa Mehr's yard. We stayed in this hiding place for three days until things quietened down. Here and there isolated cases of violence, robbery or murder continued but the main action had stopped. What finally put an end to the wild orgy of the Ukrainian hoodlums and the S.S. hangmen was the promulgation of the District Commander's Order forbidding violence to civilians, irrespective of creed or nationality.
Among the local Ukrainians who distinguished themselves in their ferocity were Pawliszyn and the chimney sweeper, Serba. These two scoundrels prided themselves on having broken a score of Jewish heads. The only Pole who took part in the slaughter was young Terlecki, a butcher's son. Many German officers watched the pogrom with calm cynicism, clicking their cameras all the time. A few months later, I happened to come across some of these photographs in an illustrated German weekly. One of them depicted a scene at the Citadel with women weeping over a pile of corpses. Among these, I definitely recognized Lusia Freimann, the daughter of Shyjo and Dziunka Kitaj. The scene bore the caption: Ukrainian women mourning their husbands who were murdered by Jews.
The first pogrom accounted for 2,500
victims, and marked the beginning of the end of Zloczow Jewry. There was an uncanny deathlike silence in the town. The survivors fled, hiding wherever they could. Every Jewish home was a house of mourning. Thus fell the curtain on the first act of the tragedy.
When order returned to the town, I left my hiding place and took the job of clearing the demolished Petesh Pharmacy near the Greek-Orthodox Church, management of which was temporarily assigned to Mr. Salitr by the Military authorities.
3. The Proclamation of the Ukrainian Republic
The Ukrainians, having satisfied their lust for blood in the pogrom and exultant at the quick victories of the Nazi, now set out to establish their long-cherished dream of an independent Ukrainian State. They naively believed that in return for their small help, mainly in murdering Jews, Hitler would favour their ambitions. At the order of their leaders in Lwow and with the personal assistance of Bandera, a Cossack chief, a group of Ukrainians in Zloczow proclaimed the Independent Ukrainian Republic. The declaration was made in the Church Square in the presence of the Orthodox clergy and a large crowd of spectators. I was watching the parade from the pharmacy where I was working and noticed, with satisfaction, the faces of the Germans ridiculing the whole affair. Two officers entered the pharmacy and one said to the other: This is all shit (das is alles Scheisse).
Meantime, the Ukrainians began to organize the local administration appointing a mayor and a municipal body. On 14th July the newly elected mayor (a local district teacher) issued an order for all male Jews to gather in the market square. Nobody
responded, everyone suspecting some trick behind it. When the sheriff came to know that his schoolmate, Dr. Zlatkes was still alive, he called on him to persuade the Jews to leave their hiding places and clean up the town, assuring him that no wrong would be done to anybody. Dr. Zlatkes declared that he had no influence on the members of the Jewish community. Only when the order was given by the military commanded coupled with an assurance that any act of violence would be punished by death, was it obeyed.
The next morning, a number of people appeared in the market square. The Ukrainian sheriff announced that all male Jews above the age of 14 were liable for forced labour and that all Jews from the age of 12 upwards, regardless of sex, were to wear white bands with the blue Star of David on their right arms. The order, signed by the Military Commander, was worded as follows:
As from today, members of the Jewish population above the age of 12 have to wear a white band with the blue Star of David on the right arm as a distinguishing sign.
Commander of the Town of Zloczow.
This announcement was printed in three languages: German, Ukrainian and Polish
and displayed prominently on the walls of the town. Compulsory labour and hunger even more forced the people into the open. Labour recruitment was not yet regulated and the Ukrainian militia and the German soldiers hunted for recruits separately. This resulted in chaos. The biggest concern of the Jews was the absence of an organized food supply. The men who worked for the German received a little food or a loaf of bread. Those who still had cash or valuable could exchange them for food. But the great majority of the Jews had nothing and were facing starvation.
This situation was suddenly relieved by help from an unexpected quarter. At the head of the Food Supply Department of the German Administration was a certain Engineer Hahn of Olshanice, an acquaintance of Dr. Schotz whom he came to know through Dr. Zlatkes. As soon as this man learnt of the grave food situation of the Jews he promised that upon receiving a detailed list of the Jewish population, he would issue a single emergency ration of flour, groats, peas and sugar from the supplies left by the Russians and without waiting for permission from higher German authorities. Dr. Schotz and Dr. Zlatkes undertook to prepare a list of the Jews. On this occasion, they decided to prepare a list of those murdered in the pogrom. The two went from door-to-door. Tears, despair and misery met them wherever they came. They almost broke down under the burden they had imposed upon themselves but they had to go on. They toiled at their task for two weeks. To meet the needs of those who could not wait, they organized an illegal Relief Committee. In response to their appeal, a number of people offered to collect whatever food they could obtain. In spite of the general misery, people deprived themselves of their last morsel of food in order
to share it with those who had nothing. Most active on that committee were the late S. Safran, Jacob Willig, Buskier, Hesio Feuring and others. I offered my cooperation but it lasted for only a day as I fell ill with a gall attack. Several ladies cooked big pots of soup and tea in their homes. These were carried to the hungry. Of the ladies, the most active were the wives of Dr. Henryk Teichmann, Dr. Gärber, Dr. Schotz and Buskier.
After two weeks of nerve-racking toil, Dr. Schotz and Dr. Zlatkes established the dead at 2,500 including a number of women. On receiving the list, Eng. Hahn kept his promise and allotted a quota of food. He also promised that when a general rationing system would be introduced, the Jews would be given special Jewish ration cards (Judenrationen). The Jewish rations were near starvation amounts which were distributed through elected representatives recognized by the Germans.
Notwithstanding the self-appointed Ukrainian Administration, the real administration remained in the hands of the German Town commander. He took up his quarters in the house of Moses Zuckerkandel, whom he ordered to be at his beck and call. On the first day the Commander called Zuckerkandel and, reading from a list, probably supplied by the Ukrainians, he asked him to bring Dr. Mayblum, Dr. Schotz and Dr. Dyver to his office. These, he said, were to be considered as representatives of the Jewish population.
When they arrived, he peremptorily told them that the Jews no longer had any rights but only duties according to the strict letter of the regulations issued by the Germans. The slightest disobedience or opposition by fellow Jews would be considered as sabotage for they, - the three representatives, as well as hundreds of
other Jews, would be shot immediately. Seeing the reluctance on their faces, the commander shouted: refusal to accept the duties just imposed on you will be considered a first act of disobedience, the consequences of which you know. Finally he announced that Mr. Zuckerkandel would act as the go-between and with the order quick march (abmarschieren!) he terminated the meeting. In this way the so-called Jewish self-government was born. The chosen men did not realize what unhappy surprises were in store for them.
The first office of the forcibly established Representative Jewish Committee was the premises of the EzratIsrael Synagogue at Mickiewicza Street.
The parallel existence of the Ukrainian Administration and the German Military Government caused great hardship to the Jews particularly in the recruitment of forced labour. But this state of affairs did not last long. In about three weeks, following the arrival of the new District Commander (Kreishauptmann) appointed by Governor Frank, the German civil administration took over from the Ukrainians. This was a heavy blow to the Ukrainians. Stripped of their short-lived power and reduced to a status where they were denied the right of decision, they were forced to play a secondary part as assistants to the Nazi executioners.
The ousting of the Ukrainian Administration brought about a deep rift between the Germans and the Ukrainians. The Ukrainians were in a state of fury but they were helpless. Nevertheless, there remained one thing which they could share with the Nazi their blind hatred towards the Jews.
The District Commander (Kreishauptmann) whose jurisdiction extended to the neighbouring towns of Brody, Przemyslany
and their surroundings were followed by several German administrative officials.
The new District Commander, an official by the name of Mann, lost no time in summoning M. Zuckerkandel and Dr. Mayblum to his office. In a short speech similar to that of the Town Commander, he ordered them to form a larger representation of the Jewish Community within three days. This Committee would be held responsible for all the activities of the Jews in town as well as in the neighbouring districts. He warned that according to German law a Jew was not allowed under any circumstances to approach the German authorities except through their officially recognized representatives. This appointment of the new Committee marked the beginning of a tragic chapter in the history of the town the chapter of the JUDENRAT.
It is not easy to approach this subject without a certain amount of prejudice and animosity to which many writers have succumbed. This is particularly true of those who did not themselves live under the Nazi occupation and did not experience those terrible times at first hand. I personally am far from defending the Judenrat as a whole. But on the other hand, my conscience does not permit me, as one who has gone
through that hell on earth, to accuse or condemn all the unfortunate members of that Institution who were drawn against their will into its accursed circle and from which there was no way out save suicide.
It is well known that in occupied Poland the task of representing the Jewish population was forced on the intelligentsia and mainly on prominent Zionist leaders. Yet, it would therefore be absurd to accept the suggestion of those writers, generally with communist leanings, who claim that the Jewish intelligentsia, headed by Zionist leaders, betrayed their own people and
collaborated with the Nazi. It is true that in those abnormal and inhuman conditions, a few individuals devoid of strong character and national self-respect occasionally succeeded in obtaining key positions as Machers (functionaries) by cooperating with the Nazi. These individuals without scruples and with only their personal gain in view, did in many ways exploit members of their own defenceless community. But those isolated cases do not justify the criticism of all Judenrat members. I can declare, and all survivors of that period will testify, that from the moment they entered the Judenrat until their tragic death, Dr. Mayblum, Dr. Schotz and Dr. Praeger did not soil their hands or conscience with any unworthy deed. On the contrary, they bore their sorrowful burden with a sense of great responsibility to the bitter end and more often than not, were the prime target for German brutality.
4. The Judenrat
As already stated, Dr. Mayblum was given three days to form a Judenrat. In spite of seeming privileges likes exemption from forced labour, very few Jews were willing to serve on it. Dr. Zlatkes succeeded in escaping it because of illness. Dr. Schotz, broken in body and soul after those two weeks of door-to-door registration of the Jewish community, also tried to withdraw. But even with a doctor's certificate, he did not succeed. Faced by the argument that the food problem was a matter of life and death for the community and that he could help a great deal through his one-time colleague, Engineer Hahn who was the only member of the Ukrainian Administration left in office, he finally gave in. After difficult negotiation, Dr. Mayblum succeeded in
forming a committee represented by the following: 1. Dr. Mayblum, chairman; 2) Bernstein; 3) Dr. Dyner; 4) Dr. M. Gruber; 5) Jakier; 6) Dr. Rubin; 7) Dr. Schotz; 8) Ojzer Schmierer; 9) Dr. Gärber; 10) Dr. Hreczanik; 11) Dr. Glanz and 12) Dr. Praeger.
M. Zuckerkandel remained the connecting link between the Judenrat and the Kreishauptstmann.
The Judenrat required a big apparatus to carry out all the manifold tasks imposed on it. It had to supply the German administration with every possible demand: - apartments, furniture and forced labour at the shortest notice. In addition, it had to meet the most pressing needs of the Jewish population.
The various departments of the Judenrat were: - 1. Secretariat. 2. Finance. 3. Labour. 4. Food supply. 5. Health and Hospitals. 6. Social welfare. 7. Housing. 8. Stores of the Judenrat. 9. Postal service. 10. Accounts. 11. Provision and buying.
An auxiliary institution, a so-called Jewish militia, was created under the formal leadership of Dr. Landesberg, but was, in reality, headed by his deputy one Henek Steinwurzel, a former employee of the Bacon Factory. The members of the militia were mostly recruited from newcomers to the town, refugees from Western Galicia, etc., who aided the Judenrat. Among those little known newcomers were a few bad characters and rogues who managed to sneak into places of authority. In course of time, three
persons succeeded in becoming entirely independent of the Judenrat:
After the shock of the pogrom and the stormy transitional period of the Ukrainian and Military governments, the establishment of a German Civil administration seemed to bring a more or less normal life back for the Jews as well as the rest of the population. The Jews grew accustomed to the blue Star of David badge, long curfews, reduced food-rations, and the forced labour of the men. A number of people found permanent occupation in various German offices, military and civilian. Women sought domestic service which gave them a little income and an additional morsel of food. But the main problem of supplying people for urgent day-to-day work remained unsolved. In order to avoid daily hunts, which often ended tragically, the Judenrat undertook to supply the Germans with any required number of working hands at short notice. But how to get those hands?
In spite of its undertakings and appeals,
no volunteers came forward. Dr. Glanz, who was in charge of labour, ordered hunts by the Jewish militia but this only aggravated the already tormented community without producing the desired results.
At the suggestion of Dr. Schotz and Dr. Praeger, it was decided to pay 10 zloty in cash and a loaf of bread to everyone who would volunteer for work. Then the hungry people started to report to work, not so much for money as for the bread. Dr. Schotz and Dr. Zlatkes had to exercise great pressure (with the help of an expensive present) in order to obtain an additional amount of bread for this purpose from engineer Hahn. At long last, the hunts and their deplorable results were stopped.
5. Ransom of Souls Financial Tribute
This seeming calm lasted only a short time and was abruptly broken by a new blow this time financial. A ransom, or contribution, was demanded of the Jews. At the end of August, 1941, Dr. Mayblum and Mr. Zuckerkandel were summoned to the Kreishauptmann's office. A high official in S.A. uniform one Matthaus received them and told that in all German-occupied territories a ransom was to be levied on the Jews as being mainly responsible for the outbreak of World War II. The population of Zloczow had to contribute, in the course of 14 days, a ransom of two million marks which amounted to four million rubbles (then still in circulation) otherwise, 100 Jews would be shot. A great panic ensued in the community for, in the meantime, rumours spread from Lwow that several hundred hostages had been shot there even though the ransom was paid in full.
These rumours helped to make the community realize the gravity of the situation and those who had means readily came forward to offer their contribution. In the face of the new threat, the Judenrat formed an Assessing Committee which met with a ready response and remarkable solidarity. Within an hour the entire sum was collected in cash and kind jewels, silver, gold and anything of value. At the same time, this deep sense of responsibility tended to magnify the tendency for self-deception among the community who believed, for quite a long time, that they could buy life with money. Luckily, no hostages were taken in Zloczow as they were in other places thanks to the fact that the wife of the Kreishauptmann and Matthaus, the official involved, were handsomely bribed. Moreover, the original ransom was reduced by half.
From the late Mr. Frenkel and the accountant Nadel, who were members of the Assessing Committee, I learnt confidentially that a considerable part of the ransom money remained with the Judenrat and was used as a reserve fund for current expenses. Two facts confirmed this information afterwards:
The Judenrat then moved from the Ezrat Israel Synagogue to the house of Mr. Pundyk at Ormianska Street and set up proper, separate departments for its various
administrative functions. This became necessary for internal reasons the need of keeping a card-index for housing and food rations as well as external to keep pace with the multiplying offices of the German administration, each of which adversely affected the Jews when it was established.
After the Kreishauptmann arrived, other departments were set up. I list them here because each of them directly or indirectly was instrumental in persecuting the Jewish population beginning with financial exactions and ending with final destruction.
In reality, it was no more than a blind tool in the hands of the Germans. Every German, civilian or military, no matter what his rank, as well as any Ukrainian Militiaman, could walk into its offices at all times and at will. They treated all the Jews there
with contempt, including Dr. Mayblum, the Head of the Judenrat and the Commander of the Jewish Militia, regarding them like worms on which they could trample whenever they felt like it. No wonder that the Jews blindly did whatever was asked of them, being in permanent danger of ill-treatment and death. Unfortunately, such visits were daily occurrences, prompted by endless demands and accompanied by blows and beatings. It was clear that the slightest refusal of any demand could bring about tragic consequences since the shooting or killing of a Jew was not considered a crime and was therefore not punished. It was in such an atmosphere that the chosen ones, the so-called Protektionskinder (the Privileged) lived and worked. The worst to suffer were Dr. Mayblum and Dr. Schotz.
I no longer remember the exact date but one day at the end of October 1941, an unknown officer accompanied by a young Jewish stranger rushed into the Judenrat office with a club in his hand. On the threshold he met Dr. Schotz. Without a word he hit him a few times in the face and over the head with the whip he was carrying. Afterwards he enquired who the Chairman was and when Dr. Mayblum introduced himself, he ordered the boy to hit him. Seeing the boy hesitate, he snatched the stick from him and began to beat Dr. Mayblum until it broke and Dr. Mayblum fell to the ground bleeding. The SS officer immediately yelled: Aufstehen und aufmerksam zuhören (get up and listen attentively). All present in the room including the staggering Dr. Mayblum stood up in order to hear the following speech: I, SS Obersturmführer Warzok have been appointed by the SS Police Commander in Lemberg as Commander of the Forced labour camp in Lackie. In this camp, which you damned dirty Jews will consider a
Paradise, five hundred Jews have to appear for work. I hold you responsible for arranging and equipping this camp with everything needed for it. Woe to your co-religionists if my orders are not carried out to the last letter. You have been far too well-off so far. Now you are going to learn what SS means. Tomorrow morning at 9 o'clock we meet here again. And with that, he left banging the door with all his might.
Terror, consternation and panic spread not only through the Judenrat but among the whole Jewish population and passed like wildfire in the town. The next day, in a state of utter despair, Dr. Mayblum appeared in the Judenrat with a bandaged head. With him came his colleagues Dr. Dyver and Dr. Schotz fully aware of the grave consequences facing them and the whole community. They appeared against the wish of their families. At 9 o'clock sharp, Warzok and two SS-men drove up to the offices of the Judenrat. When he saw only the three men awaiting him, he ordered his men to take them into the car and to drive off with them. Soon afterwards, M. Zuckerkandel showed up. He rushed to the Commander and begged him to intervene on behalf of the leaders who had been carried off. The Commander, after some hesitation (he did not want to interfere with the SS), telephoned to the Lackie camp and was told that the abducted men would be returned within a few hours. After five hours, they returned to the anxious community, not to mention their desperate families. They said that they were taken
to work unloading trucks in the Lackie Convent. There they pledged to send on time, whenever Warzok made the demand, a number of craftsmen and labourers to convert the stables, formerly used by a mounted Soviet Division, into living quarters for the inmates of the Lager (camp).
As luck would have it, I was the first to be sent there.
Now let me record a few events which, though personal in character, are closely connected with the story.
A few days after the pogrom, I fell ill with a gall attack which ended in jaundice. More serious than my illness was the horrifying fact that in the prevailing conditions, every German or Ukrainian in German uniform was authorized to kill, on the spot, any Jew who was too weak to work. Luckily, I managed to remain in bed unnoticed for a few days. After the fever had left me yellow and on shaking legs, I went to the Judenrat to ask for employment or at least a work certificate. On the way I met an acquaintance, a Pole, the owner of the Jasinski bakery, who expressed his sympathy on the death of my father and brother-in-law. In the course of our talk, he mentioned that in his house lived a German District Officer, a Volksdeutscher by the name of De Mare Himpel who was looking for somebody with a good command of German, Polish and Ukrainian for the Ettinger bakery which was under Ukrainian management. He offered to recommend me if I were interested and I was taken on the very same day. My duty was to keep a check on
supply of flour and the quantity of bread sent out. He drew my attention to the fact that in that bakery the bread for the Jews would also be baked but only during the day shift. He asked me to keep a watchful eye on the Ukrainian personnel and the foreman who might misappropriate the ration allotted to the Jews. This concern and decency astonished me greatly. Who would guess that in a man, who had the appearance and the name of a Polish nobleman, a warm Jewish heart was beating?
After having been given that job, I received a permanent working licence (Arbeitsausweis) and a loaf of bread in payment. Difficulties and troubles were not lacking, particularly with the Ukrainian workers. Later on a few Jewish bakers were also taken on and this made things easier. But the Devil did not sleep! The moment Warzok appeared on the scene events took a different turn and I was personally destined to go through all the circles of hell.
6. Lackie the Forced Labour Camp
Within a few days of Obersturmführer Warzok's first visit to the Judenrat, he demanded that a number of craftsmen and workers be sent to Lackie and prepare the barracks for the planned camp. In order to mobilize the force, the Judenrat offered each volunteer a double salary and an additional food ration which attracted more people than necessary. Dr. Rubin, a member of the Judenrat who spoke a very good German, was assigned to accompany this group.
As this assignment was not a very attractive one, he tried to evade it by shamming illness. On hearing this, Dr. Mayblum, who happened to be in my bakery
together with Dr. Schotz, asked me to help him and replace Dr. Rubin as a translator. At first I flatly refused, but after his insistent appeal on my sense of solidarity and our long-standing association, I had worked a few years in his office as an articled clerk when I was a young lawyer, I acceded to his request.
The next morning I set out for Lackie with a group of 18 people. In the Convent yard a SS Sergeant-Major received us. We were made to stand and wait in military formation for Warzok for about half an hour. When he saw the group he gave a sneering look promptly followed by a speech. Pointing to the huge iron gate of the Convent he said: Here on this gate will be hanged all those Jews who won't work well. They will hang there until they are replaced by the next group. He then began to drill us in real German style. We had to run along the big yard, sit and drop every few steps, get up, run and drop again. While we were at this exercise, Warzok and his companions kept on shooting their pistols off behind our backs for fun and in order to mortify us, at which they certainly succeeded. Each of us expected a bullet in his back at any minute. After half an hour of this macabre drill, he asked us to stand in line. I was singled out from the group and ordered: Fall and roll! (nieder und rollen!). I threw myself on the ground and rolled in that large courtyard full of puddles. When I fell into a pool of dung and lifted my head in an effort to avoid the stinking mess, Warzok followed me and pressed my head into the mud with his boot saying: The nose in the filth! ( die nase muss in Dreck sein!). As my face was pressed against a stone, I broke a couple of teeth and began to choke with the dung filling my mouth. I thought that my last hour had come when suddenly my
oppressor let go. He was summoned by an SS man to an urgent telephone call from Lwow. The sergeant who had first received us came up to me and asked me to get up and return to the Judenrat with an urgent order for window panes, nails and coffee beans. Bleeding and unwashed, I left the camp and staggered to the road. A passing farmer's cart picked me up and brought me to town, straight to the offices of the Judenrat. The people there were shocked when they saw me. I said I had fallen from the cart and broken my teeth and told the truth only to Dr. Mayblum, Head of the Judenrat, as I had to ask him to send the above-mentioned order to the camp.
The shock of this experience and my worry about those left in Lackie brought on a second gall attack. Fortunately, as I learnt later on, Warzok calmed down and the group of workers who had accompanied me were given a detailed plan of work and sent back home unharmed that evening. For two weeks they travelled to the camp every day and returned home unmolested. It looked as if Warzok had needed a victim for his cruel whims and his scape-goad had been I who, in all innocence, had stepped into the tiger's den to oblige Mr. Mayblum. Of that whole group, called pioneers, only two remained alive: Nathan Pasternak and I. Pasternak lives in Israel today at Acre.
From then on, events at the Lackie camp, which left an indelible mark on the fate of the Jewish community of Zloczow and its surroundings, followed each other in quick succession.
Warzok had decided to take up his residence in Zloczow. The Judenrat, of course,
had to provide him with an apartment. Neither effort nor money was spared to satisfy this brute. The task was given to L. Zwerdling who, in every possible way, and mainly with presents at the expense of the Judenrat, had managed to become Warzok's protégé and right-hand man. This friendship in due course not only aggravated the Judenrat but also the whole community. In fact, it became the darkest page in the history of the community under the occupation.
In the meantime, the Lackie stables provided with window panes and bare bedsteads became the camp centre for 500 Jews abducted from Lwow. The occupants were caught in the streets, loaded like cattle and dumped into the stables. They were mostly poor people who had no means of bribing their captors. They told us they had been promised by their Judenrat that they would be ransomed after four weeks. This promise, which with the best will in the world was impossible to fulfil, remained a vain hope.
Similar forced labour camps which in the course of time were to become liquidation camps were set up in a line along the bigger towns starting from Lwow via Zloczow, Tarnopol, Podwoloczyska and right into Russia. The line was called the DG 4 route. In the Zloczow district alone, seven camps were erected: - Lackie, Kurowice, Jaktorow, Pluhow, Sassow, Zarwanica and Kozaki.
Private German organizations together with the so-called Organisation Todt were commissioned to keep the roads in constant repair for the enormously heavy traffic of the German war machine. The labour camps had to supply cheap labour. Such captive concentrations of Jews in the course of time enabled the Nazi to carry out their brutal liquidation of our people, gradually and systematically.
Besides the exclusively Jewish camps, there were camps set up for unwanted elements of non-Jewish origin. These were also under a barbarous regime and handled by inhuman methods. Fritz Saukel, the Reich's commissioner for labour, was largely responsible for these camps. Yet, no matter how badly the non-Jewish slaves were treated, their conditions were idyllic compared with those of the Jews.
Warzok was actually only the commandant of the Lackie camp but as this was the biggest in the district and he himself had the highest rank among the camp commandants, all the camps subsequently came under his supervision.
Each one of these camp commandants seem to have been selected from a gallery of degenerates. They were trained in the same school of sadism and torture and practiced their skill ruthlessly on their victims over whom they exercised unlimited power. They cynically called the camp inmates their charges and supplemented the generally brutal SS manual of rules with their own specific methods of degradation. They inflicted untold suffering upon their victims.
In the other camps in the Zloczow district, excepting Kozaki where people were mostly employed in casual jobs and coal mining, the Jews worked in quarries, road-mending and stone-breaking. The work carried out under such inhuman conditions and with such a poor diet that people fell dead like flies. The commandants were not at all worried at the rapid loss of working hands for the Jewish population in the surrounding area was a steady reservoir of manpower. With regular transports arriving from Lwow, Brody, etc., Warzok had no immediate need to organize hunts in Zloczow. In return for this consideration, the Jews of Zloczow were charged with the upkeep
of the camps and had to provide presents and bribes to humour the most extravagant whims of the camp commandants. At the end of November 1941, Warzok informed Dr. Mayblum in a moment of weakness, after receiving an expensive riding horse from the Judenrat, that he would allow the Jews of Zloczow to send a delegation of three men to Lwow to bring parcels of food and clothes to the inmates of the camp.
As Jews were not allowed to venture out of their town limits under penalty of death, Warzok agreed to furnish travel permits to the delegates and to give them a big truck for the purpose. A journey in the then prevailing conditions was not free from mortal danger, even with a travelling permit, and therefore, nobody wanted to undertake it.
Let me explain here why I volunteered to go to Lwow in spite of the danger involved. Since the outbreak of the German-Russian War, I had not heard a word from my family, my parents, brother and five sisters. I only knew that they had moved from Przemyslany to Lwow where they had hoped to be safer from the Russian purges and mass evacuations to Siberia. When I heard about Warzok's proposal, I began to consider it seriously and came to the conclusion that this was perhaps the last opportunity I would have to see my family. I therefore volunteered for the trip against the violent opposition of my wife and friends. The fact that Dr. W. Teichman and Dr. Oscar Kitay had also volunteered in the meantime, likewise for family considerations, strengthened me in my decision. With the greatest of difficulty we got a ride to Lwow in an open truck loaded with potatoes from the Ukrainian Cooperative Sojush. Drenched, almost frozen and only half-alive, we reached our destination. To my great joy, I found all my family alive. But what
a terrible state they were in! They were emaciated from the starvation diet of thin soup and a morsel of bread per day. What little foodstuff I brought with me was a priceless treasure. After the meeting, I went to the Lwow Judenrat to meet my colleagues.
The news of our arrival spread like wildfire. Crowds began to fill the office of the Judenrat; mostly wives and children who came to enquire about their dear ones. The scene was heart-breaking. We had to lie to them in order not to deprive them of hope in a situation which was hopeless. Weeping with them, we asked them to prepare their letters and parcels and bring them to the Judenrat office at the Starotandetna Street near the old synagogue.
From there, I went to the main Judenrat centre at n°12 Bernstein Street. The place looked like a beehive with people milling around in the rooms and corridors. These unfortunate petitioners came to seek advice about the latest order of Dr. Lash, the district governor of Eastern Galicia, who had decided to establish a separate Jewish district, the so-called Jüdischer Wohnbezirk.
With much difficulty, I managed to reach the chairman, Dr. Rotfeld, a one-time member of the Executive of the Zionist Organization whom I had met before the war. I informed him of the terrible plight of the 500 Jews from Lwow who were shut up in the Lackie stables and stressed that without the help of their own Judenrat, these people would perish. I assured them that our Judenrat was trying to help them wherever it could but that they were breaking down under the burden of their own responsibilities.
Dr. Rotfeld declared that he too was helpless as Lwow was also surrounded with labour camps which his Judenrat had to support. He also told me that in one of them, Sokolniki, the situation was desperate. In spite of this gloomy picture I insisted on asking for help from Lwow. The town, I said, still had a big and fairly well-to-do Jewish community and its members had to be helped, the more so as they had been promised that they would be ransomed.
After prolonged negotiations, the Lwow Judenrat agreed to send a considerable sum of money for bribing Warzok in order to ease the situation of the 500 Jewish hostages under his charge. I asked Dr. Rotfeld to delegate his own representative to Lackie but he said that he had full confidence in Dr. Mayblum.
At that moment Dr. Kitay arrived. I gave him a short report on my negotiations with Dr. Rotfeld. After consulting his staff, Dr. Rotfeld decided to include the following item for Warzok: 1) a gold Schaffhausen
watch; 2) a man's fur coat; 3) a gold signed with a precious stone. These were to be handed to us before our departure.
On our way to the place where the parcels were to be collected, Dr. Kitay told me he had heard that apart from the Judenrat, another organization, a Jewish Relief Committee (Jüdische Soziale Selbsthilfe) was functioning in Lwow. It had been established by the famous advocate, Dr. Leib Landau and its task was to help the poor and lonely. In 1939, Dr. Landau was held up for a few days in Zloczow while trying to escape eastwards before the German invasion. During those few days, I came to know him as I was one of the people who had to look after him. Dr. Kitay and I decided to visit him and obtain some information about his work. He recognized me and received us very warmly. He explained to us that he had organized the Relief Committee with the consent of the German authorities and that many such Committees were already in existence in the General Government. Part of the necessary
funds came from the Judenrat and the rest were contributed by the few remaining Jews of means. In strict secrecy, he told us that he hoped to get some money from the American Joint Distribution Committee through the Polish underground organization in Warsaw. He also promised solemnly that if this hope materialized, he would repay Zloczow for the care and generous help given to the camp inmates from Lwow.
Satisfied with this interview, we went to the office at Starotandetna Street where Dr. Teichman was already waiting for us, preparing a list of the parcels. Meantime, we were called back to Dr. Landau who rightly suggested that parcels for those who had no families should also be provided. He was ready to assign a certain amount for that purpose. The rest was to be given by the Judenrat. To our great surprise, we met with indifference and coldness from some of the members (Teichholz and Seidenfrau) but Dr. Rotfeld decided in favour.
As we were about to take leave from Dr. Rotfeld, we were summoned to the office
of the Jewish Militia where an urgent telephone message had been received from Warzok demanding that the parents of a youth who had escaped while on the way to the Judenrat, escorted by a Ukrainian militia man, be sent to Lackie. Soon after, a telephone call from the Judenrat informed us that Warzok was infuriated at the escape of the boy and had had three camp inmates hanged. In order to punish the Jews of the town as well, he suspected they had aided and hidden the boy, he sent SS men to hunt and 150 people including two sons of Dr. Mayblum were caught and sent to Lackie. Dr. Schotz warned us not to stop in Lackie with the parcels but to come straight back to Zloczow.
In the meantime, the parents of the escapee arrived at the Judenrat and the militia commandant insisted on sending them to Lackie. This would have meant sheer murder. We all knew what would await them there. After much thinking and discussion, we prevailed on Dr. Rotfeld and Dr. Landau to telephone Warzok and assure
him that the boy had no family left in Lwow. In this way the unfortunate old couple were saved from certain torture and death.
After three days a 5-ton truck, driven by a Pole from Zloczow whom I knew, came to take us home. Heart-broken, I took leave of my family. I was never to see them again. I set out with my colleagues on our return journey. Bribed with a present, the driver agreed to take us straight to the Judenrat. There we were awaited in spite of the late hour. We gave our report to Dr. Mayblum and handed him the presents for the German. The problem then arose as to who should give the presents to Warzok? To the general regret, Lonek Zwerdling was delegated for this mission. He was the least suitable person and exploited the occasion to gain personal favours from the Nazi.
Luckily the fugitive boy returned to the camp. He swore that he had not tried to run away. His escort, feeling cold, had stopped at a farmer's hut, got drunk and told him to go wherever he liked. He intended to return to the camp but not knowing the district, he lost his way. It took him a long time before he finally found the camp. Of course, the death of three people did not worry Warzok. But, after accepting the presents, he magnanimously released some of the hunted people, cynically pointing out that the presents were all intended for a man and nobody had trouble to remember that he was married.
7. Life in the Labour Camp
The term life is scarcely suitable for that agonizing existence of slow starvation, super-human manual labour and torture of which even the Middle Ages would have been ashamed. I shall not go into details. In all the camps, the SS employed the same barbaric methods which are known to
everybody by now. I shall therefore restrict myself to describing some of the practices peculiar to the commandants of Lackie and Jaktorow.
The camp commandants had mapped out fixed territories for their hunting expeditions. After each expedition, the victims were brought to the camp, searched, deprived of all valuables and subjected to a fateful selective process. The young and healthy that were thought capable of doing the hard labour expected of them were spared. The rejected ones were herded into the yard and promptly shot before all eyes.
In the Jaktorow camp near Przemyslany, the commandant Grzymek sat on a balcony with his mistress and fired at his selected victims with telescopic guns. In that camp, a recurrent punishment practiced in winter, was to keep a victim in a barrel of water until he froze. I know of a case in which Grzymek, in an attack of rage, put one of his erstwhile protégés into a pot of boiling water to be cooked alive. I gave evidence of this horrible crime at Grzymek's trial in Warszawa in 1948.
In Lackie, every newcomer went through an initiation ceremony of 25 lashes intended to serve as a warning against misbehaviour. During the flogging, the victim had to repeat: order must be kept (ordnung muss sein). The lightest punishment was 50-100 lashes which often ended in death depending on the weakness of the victim or the viciousness of the lashing. The favourite punishment of Warzok and his successor Salzborn was the so-called Anbinden 'tying-up'. A mild form was to tie the victim's arms and legs to a pole for a few hours. The severest form was to tie the victim with his head downwards which always resulted in death. The baker Schleicher died in this way, hung by order of Zalzborn.
It is impossible to recount the atrocities committed on unfortunate people who after ten to twelve hours of the hardest work, subsisting on meagre food-rations, were subject to the whims of their tormentors. In the evening and on their bare planks, Warzok would come into the barracks with his entourage to check on cleanliness. Those whose feet were found to be a little bit dirty were dragged out of bed and flogged on the soles of their feet until the blood spurted. The victims were sometimes ordered to run from end-to-end of the yard, sometimes over live charcoal especially strewn for the purpose. Such an ordeal led to the death of Victor Marder of Brody, a distant relation of mine who died of festering wounds that turned into gangrene.
The commandants, the SS gatekeepers and their Ukrainian assistants, tried to find new ways in torturing their victims and the harvest of death was abundant. Unfortunately, there were a few Jewish kapo-
sadists who also tortured their fellow inmates. In Lackie there was one such individual brought from Brody, nicknamed Leibele Gonef I cannot recall his real name who was assigned by the SS guards for flogging. According to them, he did the job better than they themselves could. Besides being a sadist, this Leibele was an informer and a real terror in the camp. In the middle of 1942, he fell ill with typhoid and was sent to hospital. He did not recover.
Early in 1942, there was a sudden improvement in the Lackie labour camp. This turn for the better was certainly not motivated by humanitarian considerations. The reasons were more probably the following:
This temporary improvement was felt in the behaviour of the whole camp personnel. Apart for some isolated, whimsical outbursts of cruelty, they showed a more reasonable approach to the inmates.
First of all, food and clothe parcels might be received regularly by the inmates.
Secondly, sick rooms were established in the camps with doctors and medicines supplied, of course, by the Judenrat.
Thirdly, the Jewish hospital in Zloczow was designated a District Camp Hospital.
Fourthly, by order of Warzok, smaller camps and workshops (Nebenlager) were set up in towns and affiliated to the main Lackie labour camp.
Fifthly, the camp secretariat, the so-called Schreibstube and the main food-store were
transferred to the town. Its secretary was a Jew from Lwow, one Bischel, and the store-keeper was Weirauch, the son-in-law of Tauber. The store-keeper of the Jaktorow camp, whose stores were also located in Zloczow on Pocztowa Street, was Kusik Landesberg.
These little innovations, though insignificant, were immediately sensed by the Jewish community always alert to its desperate plight and a ray of hope entered the hearts of the optimists. Unfortunately they did not have to wait long to realize that the Germans were only using delay tactics.
8. The Relief Committee
Life in town dragged on with sad monotony. It was an existence of slow starvation under the shadow of sinister camps. Misery and hunger visited practically every home and the need to send help to the camp inmates called for an urgent relief organization. Accordingly, a Relief Committee similar to the one in Lwow was created. It was called: Jüdisches Committee für Sociale Selbsthilfe and the office-bearers were as follows: chairman Dr. Katz; deputy-chairman Dr. Kitaj of Krakow; members: Jacob Willig, Bursztyn (a refugee writer from Warsaw), Buskier, S. Safran, Hesio Feuring and J.Z. Imber( Buskier, Feuring and Imber afterwards worked in the Jewish Hospital). I was co-opted to the Committee later after I had come in closer contact with Mr. Mayer. Our task was enormous our means negligible. A very important and vital department in this Committee was the one which dealt with the supply of parcels to the camps. Here, credit should be given to Mrs. Dzialoszynska (née Kitay). The collection and distribution of food and cloth-
ing, apart from the efforts of the Judenrat in this field, was very hard and often dangerous. Partly legally, partly illegally, parcels were smuggled into the camps and distributed among those who had nobody to care for them or help them. Those active in this charitable work and who often risked their lives were Buskier and the late Leon Blaustein of Brody. Blaustein survived the war and in 1964, died in Kfar Vitkin, Israel.
The initial donation to the fund was received from the Judenrat, the second from Dr. Landau, the head of the Lwow Relief Committee but the main income came by collection from the community and voluntary donations by individuals. Resources were very limited and the efforts of all the committee members were not enough to overcome the main difficulty of procuring food supplies. At a critical moment when it seemed that the Committee had reached a hopeless deadlock, unexpected aid descended from Heaven in the person of Mr. Joseph Meyer the new head of the Food and Agriculture department in the District Office.
The arrival of this remarkable man, endowed as he was with the highest humanitarian principles at a time when we were engulfed by an ocean of hatred, violence and murder, was like a powerful light breaking
through the dark clouds in which our existence was shrouded. To illustrate his character, I shall recall a few incidents:
At the end of 1941, District commander Mann, acting on orders from his head office in Lwow, dismissed engineer Hahn, the last Ukrainian employee who represented the Ukrainian authority as director of the Food Department. He was replaced in his key position by a German. This transfer took about fourteen days to accomplish. As was to be foreseen, it was the Jews who suffered, for distribution of food to them was temporarily stopped. This worried Dr. Schotz very much for he was responsible for the food supply and also because some kind of normal relationship had already been established with engineer Hahn. When the new German official took over, he paid an unexpected visit to the bakery I was attached to for bakeries were also under his control. As I was the only one who knew German, it fell to my lot to talk with him. With my heart in my mouth I gave him a detailed report on the bakery and my position there.
After our short conversation during which he questioned me thoroughly and understood that I was a Jew, he ordered me to follow him to his car and drive away with him. I cannot find the words to describe the fear and despair which I felt at that moment. I felt like a person condemned to death and led to execution. Afraid to ask questions, I did not know where I was being taken. When we arrived at Kopernika Street and stopped near Lutsak's house, he asked me to enter his flat with him. It consisted of one scantily furnished room. Then he introduced himself, offered me a chair and explained that he was a newcomer and not acquainted with the place or its conditions. He said he was quite helpless, particularly as regards the setting up of his flat. I ventured to answer that he should turn to the
Judenrat. To this suggestion he angrily retorted that he did not want anything gratis from the Jews like the other Germans. At that moment he said all he needed was a quilt as he had been freezing at night.
In the course of our talk, he enquired about my profession and on hearing that I was a lawyer, he asked me about the Jewish intelligentsia. Seeing my reluctance to answer this question, he asked me to tell him the truth as it also interested him to know who had staged the pogrom in the town: Sagen Si emir bitte die Wahrheit, ausserdem interessiert es mich wer hier den Judenpogrom organisiert und ausgeführt hat! Das haben ohne Zweifel unsere SS-Banditen gemacht. He said he was sure that the SS bandits had done it. Dumbfounded and afraid of some trap behind his outburst, I stood silent.
Not getting a reply, he said: You needn't be afraid of me. I am a staunch Catholic and a German patriot and therefore an inexorable opponent of the criminal Nazi regime.
The mad Fuhrer and his criminal followers
who have caused this war and all its unheard of horrors, have brought the greatest misfortune not only on Germany but on all humanity. In spite of these striking initial victories, I am sure that we shall lose the war because the whole world is against us. My country and my people will pay dearly for this crime for which no penalty is high enough. I have come here from Radom where the Jews know me and of my convictions. Tell your unfortunate co-religionists that I shall do my utmost to help them. At that, he glanced at his watch, which stood at 12, locked the door and turned on the radio. I heard the voice of the B.B.C. Here is London calling! I should mention here that Jews were forbidden to listen to the radio under penalty of death.
Blood rushed to my head and my heart seemed to be near bursting when I heard about the enormous losses of the German armies on the Eastern front because of the frost and snowdrifts. I did not know whether
It was a dream or reality. I could not restrain the tears that rolled down my cheeks. Mr. Mayer came closer to me, tried to calm me and embraced me. From that moment we became friends. This friendship was all the more precious because it was extended through my person to the whole community at a time when a Jew was treated worse than the lowest beast on earth.
Mr. Meyer asked me to visit him daily (if possible, of course) as he felt very lonely and in need of someone to talk to and confide in. I left him in a state of semi-consciousness as I could not believe that what had happened had really taken place. Perhaps it was a hallucination of my exhausted brain?
On the way home I met Jacob Willig, whom I hugged with happiness, unable to utter a word. Willig took me into the house of Dr. Schotz nearby where Dr. Kitaj also was present. After I had recovered a bit, I told them about Meyer and the English radio announcement. Dr. Mayblum, Dr. Schotz and Dr. Kitaj naturally concluded that we should immediately approach this new friend of the Jews for help in our grave food situation. But there was no need to do so. The next day Meyer himself summoned me through his driver and informed me that while examining the documents he had discovered that the Ukrainians had, on their own initiative, diminished the food ration legally allotted to the Jews. For instance, the weekly ration of bread had been reduced from 1,000 to 700 grams; the jam ration from 100 to 50 grs and against the 200grs of white flour, nothing was allotted.
The first thing Meyer did was to give the Jews the full rations due to them. He then began to investigate what had happened to the misappropriated rations. Seeing that the full quota allotted was below the bare minimum, he advised the Judenrat to double the
number of manual workers in the monthly census returns. Manual workers, it may be mentioned, were entitled to a double food ration. But I do not wish to repeat here the details which Mr. Meyer himself mentions elsewhere in this book. I shall restrict myself to a few typical incidents which he has refrained from touching upon.
Since the German occupation, meat was beyond reach for Jews. Mr. Meyer suggested that he could find a way of allotting a weekly ration of bones and scraps to manual workers from the German slaughter house. Under the excuse of sending those scraps, Arjeh Steinman, the one-time director of the Bacon Factory who was now employed at the slaughterhouse, added some extra bits and pieces which made it possible to open a little meat shop in Pundyk's house. He also managed to earmark a few scraps for the Jewish Hospital which carried a special tag: Allgemeines Krankenhaus (General Hospital).
Though all these tricks, coupled with Meyer's friendly efforts, helped a little, they could not bring much relief. The bulk of the Jewish population was starving. Dr. Schotz and Dr. Mayblum insisted that I should try and persuade Mr. Meyer to provide some additional provisions to enable us to open a kitchen to feed the very poor and solitary. Opening a kitchen on the part of the Jews was a suggestion almost bordering on madness! Where would we get such articles as potatoes, groats, fat, etc things which Jews had no right to procure and would not even dream of asking for?
With a heavy heart, I went to Meyer fully aware of the risk in which the suggestion involved a good and noble man who had already done far more for us than his official duty warranted. But in view of our helplessness, I plucked up courage and told him that this help was the only way out that we
could see from our tragic food situation. In his face I could see the intense inner struggle going on within him. At last his innate goodness and nobility prevailed. What was duty on my part to ask for help was an act of courage and heroic self-sacrifice on his. The allotments for this kitchen were written out for certain imaginary, non-existent institutions and military units. We had to be very careful in receiving these supplies since most of the stores were in the hands of Ukrainians who would have been only too willing to disclose forgeries or similar misdemeanours to the Gestapo where Jews were concerned.
With the help of the husband of Eve Tinter, the Jewish accountant in the Soyus, the Cooperative on the Podwojcie, we bribed the manager of the Food Stores, a Ukrainian named Pietryk who hated the Germans even more than the Jews for not having ranted independence to the Ukrainians. After that, things worked out smoothly.
Thanks to Meyer the kitchen provided about 200 people with a warm meal which consisted of soup and potatoes or a cereal. Those who could afford it paid half a zloty for a meal. They very poor, of course, received it free of charge.
To round off the picture of Meyer's nobility of character, I shall recall another action of his which, were it not for the tragic situation it reveals, would sound like a good farce.
The fat problem in every war is difficult. During the German occupation, the fat shortage was so serious that the strictest control was imposed on this vital article of food. Very bit was sent to the front. As the feast of Passover drew near, the food situation worsened. Not only was there no fat but even the promised potato ration the Bezugsschein remained a paper promise. The
Farmers did not deliver the quota demanded by the German authorities and the stores were empty. Nevertheless, our friend Meyer found ways and means of helping us. He sent out special groups of gendarmes to
collect produce from the farmers and ten tons of potatoes arrived at the Kitchen stores. More difficult, however, was the problem of the fat. Here the noble Meyer conceived an extraordinary plan.
The Soyus Cooperative had stored up a few hundred litres of crude vegetable oil. Meyer staged a real farce to get it for the Jews. He drove up one day to the Cooperative and, pretending to have come to take stock of all the food supplies, went around sniffing and searching in every corner. When he came to the place where the oil was stored, he yelled out that something rotten was lying there. The storekeeper explained that it was crude vegetable oil for the Germans. Asking to be shown the stuff, Meyer indignantly berated the storekeeper: Is this what you keep for us Germans? Do you want to poison us? Out with it! Throw it away to the Jews! (Das soll für uns Deutsche bestimmt sein? Ihr wollt uns vergiften! Heraus damit! Gibt es den Juden!).
According to our pre-arranged plan, I went to theSoyus Cooperative soon after under the excuse of having to settle an urgent matter. The store-keeper, it seemed, was only too happy to see me. He asked me to relieve him as quickly as possible of that stinking oil and take it away. This of course I gladly did! Thanks to the cunning trick of Mr. Meyer, the community had oil that Passover.
9. The Final Solution of the Jewish problem
The gloom of German occupation covered Europe like a shroud. People choked and war against England, America and Russia was declared by Goebbels as a holy war against Jewish capitalism and communism. Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill were nothing
more than servants of International Jewry. The Jews brought about the war and therefore they had to be mercilessly destroyed. Such was the theme of Nazi propaganda.
One would have thought that the great losses suffered by the Germans would tend to reduce the preoccupation of the Nazi with the Jewish problem. But the opposite was the case. Having grown accustomed to quick victories at the beginning of the war, the first great defeat which they suffered near Moscow served to intensify their murderous rage against the Jews. Thus the Eindlössung, the Final Solution of the Jewish People seems to have crystallized in the brains of Hitler and Himmler when the tide of war began to turn against them.
One 20th January, 1942, in the Interpol building at Swansee, a secret conference of the SS, SD, RSHA and the Gestapo took place. Here, it eventually transpired, the tragic fate of our people was sealed. At this meeting, it was decided that all the Jews of Europe should gradually be sent to their death in special death camps. The proposal was made by Reinhard Heydrich and promptly confirmed by Hitler and Himmler.
The first step in this move was the isolation of the Jews in separate districts from which they were to be deported to hermetically sealed ghettoes. The details of this plan were entrusted to Office IV of the RSHA whose head was SS-Gruppenführer H. Müller. Within his office was a special Jewish Department IV B under the command of Adolf Eichmann.
The next step was the methodical construction of the Death Camps to carry out the liquidation. Death Camps were erected at the following places in Poland:
Chelmno near Lodz
Treblinka on the Bug
Sobibor near Lublin
Maydanek, near Lublin
Belzec near Lwow
Simultaneously with the plan for the physical liquidation of the Jews, a detailed plan for the plundering of victims was drawn up. This operation was designated Aktion Reinhardt.
The satanic plan was to be carried out gradually because of strong opposition from certain quarters in the Government who insisted that for economic as well as strategic reasons the final liquidation should be postponed until after victory. With the increasing needs of the war fronts, the Jews, these quarters argued, could be very useful. The liquidation should therefore be limited in the
first instance to anti-social and unproductive elements. This milder proposal, though opposed by the top leaders, served to lull public opinion abroad and also to deter the Jews from organized opposition. The Germans declared hypocritically: urbi et orbi: - Only productive work gives on the right to live.
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