(From the book W Kotlinie [In the Valley],
stories from the
Holocaust, Polish, Book and Science publication, Warsaw, 1949)
Stanislaw Wygodzki, a Polish Jewish writer, was born in Będzin (1907) to the Zionist activist Icchak Wygodzki. When he was young, he was an actor in the drama group of the Ivria society (after WWI) and performed on the Hebrew stage. He was also active in the Hashomer Hatza'ir organization. He studied in the Yavne gymnasium, but despite the Hebrew-national education he received in his father's home and from his teachers Sobotko, Tewel Klajnman and Z. Borensztajn, he turned his back to the Zionistic goals of these people. He was fascinated with radical leftist ideals and he started to offer his talent to the Polish working class and their literature. In the twenties, he was arrested because of his communist activity and was kept in prison for a long time.I could title the story with a motto taken from the Bible or from The New Testament, as writers do, in order to introduce the reader to the subject as accurately as possible, if not only to participate in the grief of the mother whose story I am about to tell. But I have not found in the ancient books the sentence which will throw enough light on the incident that happened to me.
In the last war, under the regime of the Nazis, he suffered much more, both as a Jew and as a writer with communist tendencies. In his poems he glorifies the fighters for equality and social justice and the masses of the oppressed people who did not give up until over Poland, my homeland, whose war and rebirth I accompanied, the red flag of liberty was lifted.
In the twenties he published his maiden composition in a literary journal and since then his reputation among Polish writers became greater. In the war, he lost his whole family: parents, brothers, wife (a member of the famous Domb family in Będzin) and daughter. He was thrown into solitary confinement, sent to Auschwitz, and tried to commit suicide, but he did not succeed and was left alive.
His works in prose and poetry express his emotional and spiritual personal world. The poems of Bialik, whom Wygodzki describes as the giant of the Hebrew poetry, had a very strong effect on him, which is reflected in his book of poems The Diary of Love.
His poems which are dedicated to the Holocaust are imbued with depression and grief. There he expresses the tragedy of the Jewish people with great intensity. In one of his ballads he mourns:Forgive me for the century in whose decadence I livedHis first book of poems, called Apel, appeared in Moscow in 1933. Until now, the following books have been published: The Clerk, In The Valley, Jalonek and the So, Back Home, Near the Road, The Empty Yard, Six Stories and a collection of poems which includes 120 poems, divided into eight main parts according to topics.
Under the load of the mortar I collapsed
I dug pits in the forests
Lungs consumptive and contracted
I tasted from the poisoned goblet
With a lost hand I inscribed my words
And my soul knew no solace.
Wygodzki translated some of Shalom Aleichem's and Efraim Kaganowski's works into Polish and also the letters of Egon Erwin Kisch, a German Jewish writer.
Now he lives in Poland and his reputation of a gifted writer attracts many many readers. His books have been out of print for a long time now.
I have seen mothers who did not want to separate from their children even when they could save their own lives, but I have also seen mothers who desperately deserted their children and handed them over, and after the children had been gathered into the trucks to be executed, they joined the labor camps and the path of suffering .I will not hurry to judge them as guilty or innocent. I have been weighing this problem for a long time. I have talked to people in God's service, to the wise, to laymen, to mothers of children and to barren women, but the more I thought about it, the more perplexed I became.
If I showed you a woman who poisoned her son to save him from the tortures of the German hell, would you ask her how she felt at night, all alone, with the memories of her deed?
I knew that telling the story would not help to understand it, although that was my purpose, but it could uncover part of its mystery I also knew that its hero would remain a fiction, the fruit of the writer's imagination, if I did not materialize him in a real person, in a real place and in a real time because the things told here have their hold in reality:
In prison B-0 (probably in Auschwitz the translator), in which I was put three days ago, there were eight separate cells. Right away I knew that only two were occupied: mine and the second to my right. I heard not only the frequent clicks of the lock of the other cell, but also the footsteps and other sounds through the wall that divided our cells.
The jailer let us out twice a day once to the toilets and once to get our food ration. First to come out was the unknown prisoner, and then was my turn. We had never met. I was waiting for my investigation with apprehension. I could not fall asleep not only because of my stress and tension, but especially because of the terrible cold. It was January 1942, a freezing, stormy winter also to those outside of jail. I slept on the floor in my clothes, all curved up, my head on my arms.
On the third night I woke up to the sound of the opening door of the nearby cell, and right after that there was complete silence, a silence that made you tremble, and it was as if I could hear the pulse of the emptiness through the wall.
After a while, that same door opened again and I heard the pent up puffs of the jailers dragging a body. I listened intently. First there was silence. But after a minute I heard moans and groans which did not stop. I turned to the other wall hoping that doing so I would not hear the sobs, but they reached my ears even there. Moreover, they sounded as if coming from where I was standing. I squeezed myself into the corner, but it was in vain. I stuck my fingers into my ears and this time it worked, but how long can one stand with his arms lifted? I felt I was going crazy.
The first rays of dawn could be seen through the window, a pale, weak light.
And there, across the wall, an unhappy human-being was wailing. During that day
they took him out twice again. I knew it because I heard the jailers' footsteps
and their screaming voices, and when they brought him back, I heard from his
cell the same endless moans, a wordless outcry which tore my heart. When I was
forced to listen to those heartbreaking groans day and night, I wished I too
felt physical pain and cried out bitterly. Then I understood something which I
had never believed in before, that tortures of the soul are more painful than
tortures of the body. It is better to lose your mind because of swollen, beaten
fingers and broken bones than of the endless, maddening cries coming from
behind the walls of my cell.
When the jailer opened the door and handed the dinner ration, I asked him about the date of my expected investigation. It was clear to me how it would end, but then, at least, when I was out of my cell, I would no longer hear my neighbor's cries. It seemed that my impertinent question did not particularly surprise the jailer. He had known the souls of people who had been tortured there for more than a year, and also their reaction to the heartbreaking cries heard for twenty hours a day.
At night that door opened again. The prisoner had been taken to innumerable investigations. For a short while there was silence, which restored my peace of mind, but soon, the maddening cries burst out again. I became a nervous wreck, a bundle of raw nerves. I punched the wall with my fists to stop the harsh voice, but the person behind the wall did not become any quieter.
Once, the door of my cell opened. I squeezed myself into the corner, so the policeman did not notice me at first, because through the half-open door only dark light could be seen. Komm!, come!
Fear seized me. My instinct told me that despite the endless wailing, it was better here than where the cruel Gestapo inquisitors were waiting for me.
Come! Come! He repeated his order twice. One order which was spiced with words of contempt and ridicule probably did not satisfy him.
I went out to the corridor. He did not close the door of my cell and pointed to the room where the abandoned prisoner was staying. He opened the door and ordered me to get in. Then I saw
On the floor lay an old, torn suit and the tortured man was thrown on the ground breathing heavily . His underwear was soaked with blood and he wriggled and twisted with pain, pressing his head towards his belly, shrinking and moaning. I think the moans were soundless, so how did they still cut the air and deafened my ears?
Take off your clothes!
The policeman pointed at me. I was wrong. Not at me, at my clothes. I hesitated because I did not understand anything.
I took off my jacket and then my trousers.
Dress him up! He pointed to the prisoner.
I touched the lean, wizened, helpless body which was senseless but burning with sores and wounds. By the light of the open door I noticed that his limbs were covered with red, blue-gray bruises. I leaned down trying to hold him, but he slipped off my hands, looking at me with dim but imploring eyes. It was very hard to dress him because he kept moving clumsily, hitting his head at the stony floor. I was helpless. I did the job hurriedly so as to finish it as quickly as possible. Surprisingly, I found pleasure I his groans, as if content that my heart had become numb and senseless
He was still alive.
I returned to my cell with only my underwear on. Soon after that, he was taken away again. The savage officers had probably been disgusted with his blood-soaked clothes and decided to cover him with mine.
I trembled. It was so cold. Then I froze. They brought him back again and walked away, cursing and swearing. I heard his cries even before he reached his cell. Had I already got used to that roar?
The day after, the policeman called me and said:
They brought him a suit from home. Take your clothes off him and dress him with his.
I will put on his suit. Let him stay in mine I replied.
I did not know what had hit me. Was it disgust with his blood-soaked clothes, or the fear of having to touch his pain-stricken body?
The policeman changed his mind and threw at me the suit which the stranger had received from home. It seemed that he too had grown tired of that contemptible job. He locked the door and I put on the clothes which were not mine. I didn't even look into the pockets which had been turned inside out after a search.
The suit was the type of the warm sport clothes of skiers. The trousers could be fastened under the knees and also stretched down to the ankles and tightened to the shoes. Now I felt much better. After a night in the new suit, it seemed to me that the stranger's clothes were particularly warm. Later, I noticed that the suit was too large and dragged on the floor. I would have preferred mine, but it had probably soaked the blood of the poor convict by then. He was breathing hard for another three days and nights and I too was numb. When he stopped for a minute I felt bad, as if missing his groans.
One morning the door of his cell opened and didn't close again. When I went to
the toilets, I peeped into his room and it was empty. Death had arrived. His
things had been collected and the blood washed up.
I got off at the station, and so did the woman. She started talking to me:
Were you in a concentration camp, sir?
I lifted my arm and showed her the number, thinking that would satisfy her curiosity.
You were lucky to get out alive!
Her dry eyes became moist and a tear ran down her cheek. We walked slowly taking our time.
Were you there for a long time?
Since January 1942. Since I was arrested. Exactly here, in A.
Were you here in prison, sir?
Why do you ask?
She caught my hand and continued:
And did you survive it?
You see I did!
My son too might have survived, but I
Here she stopped, bent her head and released my hand.
My son too was here. Did you know him by any chance?
I explained to her that I had not known anybody because I was in solitary confinement.
She was quiet for a while and then continued to ask.
Did they beat a lot?
They beat as they chose to, but somehow I came through. And what happened to your son?
I killed him!
I looked at her questioningly. 'This woman must have lost her mind,' I said to myself.
You killed him in prison? Is it possible? How did you enter?
You remember the market in A. We walked on the cobbled road, skipped over the well near which the peasants used to water their horses. A driver stopped his car in front of the tavern.
As early as January 1942, her son, knowing that he would not be able to escape the SS had prepared poison which he hid under the lining of the coat's pocket, for the sake of safety. If they arrested and tortured him during the investigation, he might not be able to bear it and would mention names of others, which might cause their arrest. This was what he had told his mother.
And indeed, one day he was arrested in his yard while cutting wood. He was dressed in his shirt without a jacket. He was dragged forcefully, shoved into a motorcycled cart and taken away.
She continued to speak, her voice slightly anxious.
I had always looked for an opportunity to send him the coat in which the bundle with the cyanide of potassium was hidden. I used to take the risk and walk up and down the prison square and once I even knocked at the gate. They told me that my son did not need the coat because he was kept warm enough and ordered me to get away. I returned home, desperate. The day after, however, late at night, a policeman appeared at my door and asked for a coat for my son. I didn't think much, opened the wardrobe and took out long warm trousers that could be fastened under the knees, sportsmen's trousers, designed for skiers. I also handed him a coat As the policeman was leaving, I kissed his hand. After a few days I was informed that my son had suddenly died and they returned the coat. But it was not my son's coat; it was somebody else's. I haven't been able to find out what it meant.
I realized that at that moment I became part of her life and that I had lived her experiences, her wishes and the last hours of her murdered son. I heard her story and my heart seemed to explode. I must have stopped because she asked:
Have you grown tired, sir?
I resumed walking and she continued:
I don't know what my son did when he received the coat, but I'm afraid he suffered tremendously until he got it. Even you, sir, who sat with him at one time, cannot deny it completely and relieve me from the doubt.
Madam, people suffered a lot there, but rest assured that you did very much for your son in his last moments.
But you, sir, you were there too, and still you managed to come out alive. If I hadn't sent him the coat, I wouldn't have killed him. How can I live in peace when my conscience tortures me day and night? With every passing day my regret grows deeper and I am filled with more remorse. If I had only known that they flogged him, caused him unbearable suffering, and that the poison eased his pain, I would have felt better, knowing that I helped him speed up the end of his suffering
She rested a minute and repeated:
Yes, I would have been quiet.
What could I tell her and how could I comfort her? Should I have described to her the cleansing suffering of her son the martyr? Should I have told her the truth that the coat had never reached her son? If I had done so, I would have certainly wounded her tired soul which was already so beaten and depressed. Let the poor mother live in the hope that her son had taken his life and she had helped him hasten the arrival of the liberating death.
In 1951 an urn of ashes of the Zaglembian Jews sacrificed in Auschwitz was presented to the Zaglembian Émigrés Organization. It was given by a former Sosnowiec resident, David Zicher, who remarkably had managed to survive, and who had served as an inmate near the camp's death furnaces. There was a meeting with the organization's board led by Rabbi Menachem Hager of blessed memory, who served many years as the chairman of the Zaglembian Émigrés Organization in Tel Aviv, till he passed way in 1954. In the meeting [Zicher] he described in a choked voice and tear-filled eyes, how he had probed and turned over with his hands a small quantity of ashes, that he had carefully saved from the last dispatch of Jews from our region in 1943, amongst whom was his wife and children who had been gassed and incinerated.
By agreement of the Chief Rabbinate of Tel Aviv, that had intervened in this
matter, it was decided after deliberations and inquiries that this box of ashes
should be brought for proper burial in Israel. In the month of Av, 5712 (1952),
a funeral took place in which many people participated and the urn of ashes was
buried in a very prominent, central location in the old Nachlat Yitzhak
cemetery, near the graves of the soldiers who had fallen defending the State of
Israel. The chairman of the organization, who was also head of the Chevrat
Kaddisha, strove to see achieve this.
The miniature mita on which the ashes of the martyrs of the Zaglembian communities was brought to Israel and photographs of the temporary headstone in the cemetery and the monument, that was erected later, were presented to the archives of the Yitzhak Katzenelson Bet Lochamei Museum, for the Holocaust and the Rebellion legacy, located near Kibbutz Lochamei Haghettaot in the Western Galilee.
The buried ashes remained for two years without a suitable headstone, because of the lack of funds to erect a monument in memory of the glory of the Jews of Zagłębie. Later, funds were collected by donations from our surviving brothers, and a monument was erected for their eternal memory.
On the 11th anniversary of the destruction our parent's birthplace, on Tisha B'av 5714,
(8/8/1954) an unveiling ceremony of the monument, on which the names of the
twelve Zaglembian communities that were destroyed were engraved in marble:
|Będzin, Sosnowiec, Dąbrowa, Ząbkowice, Strzemieszyce,
Czeladź, Lagisza, Gołonóg, Grodziec, Niwka, Dańdówka.
The committee members lowered the black cloth that covered the monument, and a magnificent monument was revealed to the excited gathering. The crowd wept. People fainted. After the prayer El Male Rachamim and the reciting of Kaddish, the crowd left the cemetery that had been sanctified, and has served since then as a meeting place for memorials that take place annually on Tisha B'Av.
During a memorial service in 1957 a terrible tragedy took place, which ended
with the death of one of our most dedicated members in organization matters.
Attorney Dr. Pinchas (Paul) Majteles, a Holocaust survivor, became excited to
such an extent during a very impressive eulogy, that he fell on the martyrs
grave, and his pure soul was extinguished. Even in death he was not separated
from his wretched brothers, the full extent of their tragedy he had experienced
by M. H.
Translated by Nitsa Bar Sela
Edited by Yocheved Klausner
According to a careful estimate (on the basis of the lists we possess and the vast participation in memorial ceremonies for the martyrs of our community), in Israel there are about two thousand former residents of Będzin and their numbers grow with the immigration of survivors arriving from Poland. Będziners live in Israel all over the country: in towns, villages, kvutzot [groups] and moshavim [cooperative agricultural settlements]. They have professions in industry, commerce, agriculture, clerkship, education and more. Generally speaking, they have adapted themselves to the life in the country, have become devoted citizens and have connected their future with the land whole-heartedly.
In the years of the great tide of immigration from Poland, 1924-1925, when hundreds of people came from our town to Israel (most of whom belonged to the middle class, but failed, unfortunately, in their business here and returned to Będzin to be annihilated in the Holocaust), there was no need to found a special landsmanshaft [society of immigrants from the same town or region], because whenever the immigrants confronted hardships, they were helped and supported by The General Association of the Immigrants of Poland, which helped all of them, no matter what town or community they came from.
But when World War II broke out in 1939, and the first horrendous news started to reach Israel about the Holocaust and the Będzin refugees escaped to Russia, Będziners in Tel Aviv began to get together with the purpose to send help to the suffering refugees in the plains of Siberia. Similar attempts were made in other cities, Haifa and Jerusalem, where there was a large concentration of Będziners. However, most attempts to organize the people failed, because very few were ready to devote themselves to this mission.
One day, by the end of 1939, several people met in the home of Mr. Zilbersztajn in Tel-Aviv. They were Abram Hampel, Icchak Rudoler, Josef Szapiro (all three have passed away since), Chaim Welner, Szraga Rozenblum, Szlomo Bolimowski, Kalman Honigman, Icchak Inwald, Josef Cwi Rajs, Elimemech Diamant, Leibl Kokotek and others. They laid the foundation to the organization of the former residents of Będzin. For a long while, they assembled in the flat of Mr. Zilbersztajn, who was very devoted to the organization in its first years. Icchak Rudoler was the head of the organization (until his death), Bolimowski and the late Szapiro were the secretaries and Rozenblum was the treasurer.
The organization was duly registered in the governing offices as an official association, which had the right to proceed publicly in fundraising and manage fiscal projects. Its objectives were defined as helping the Będzin refugees who suffered in Russia and supporting the few immigrants who succeeded in reaching Israel, after a long journey through neutral countries.
Former residents of Będzin in the USA, especially our good friend Abram Liwer, who was himself one of the refugees in Russia and succeeded, after painful wanderings, to bring his entire family to the United States, met and organized constructive help by sending us by mail packages containing shoes, clothes and food, to be sent by us to Russia to addresses that we had obtained. Since this organization was registered by law, the parcels that we received from America were cleared of customs and other taxes and we could send them to the USSR without delay. We received letters and telegrams (which we still keep in the memory of those bitter days) which confirmed that the parcels reached their destination and helped them survive, and that they needed much more of them.
We did not count on former residents of Będzin in America alone, and started fundraising among Będziners in Israel as well. We sent a special circular to our people, in which we asked them to donate generously. We also distributed shares, which yielded several hundreds of Israeli pounds (liras), a considerable sum in those days, established membership dues, gave parties and all the money collected was used to distribute packages and offer financial assistance to new immigrants.
In 1944 a new committee was elected: Mordechai Tenenbaum, of blessed memory, Asher Fishel, Szraga Rozenblum, Dawid Liwer, Alter Brukner, Szlomo Bolimowski, Menachem Gelband, Hanoch Malach, J. C. Rajs. This committee succeeded greatly in placing new immigrants in jobs and finding housing for them. As an example, three families were put up in a rented three-room shed on Dizengoff Street and eleven single men were put up in another shed on Levinski Street.
That year we received letters from the Jewish committee in Będzin, who appealed desperately for immediate financial help for the survivors who were arriving to Będzin from death and labor camps. Indeed, our committee immediately mobilized assistance. They raised funds among Będziners in Tel-Aviv, who donated nice sums of money. The money was intended to help in two directions: for our brethren in the deserted Będzin and for our people who were making their way to Eretz Yisrael. The mission of delivering the donations to their destination was not easy because large sums were spent on the way.
This situation lasted a few years. Meanwhile, the idea arose to join our
organization with the other organizations of Zagłębie into one body
so as to render our activities more efficient by saving money spent on
administration. In the beginning of 1949 the people of Zagłębie met
in a general assembly, in which they decided to unite he two organizations.
A union was set up, which included the former residents of Będzin, Sosnowiec and Ząbkowice, under the name of The Zagłębie World Organization. For five years the united organization was headed by the late Rabbi Menachem Hager who helped to achieve several of the objectives of the organization. The deputies were Nechemia Singer, the lawyers Dr. Sapir and Dr. Rechtman, and Dawid Liwer. The secretaries were Chaim Triger and Mordechai Hampel. Majer Landsman served as treasurer and other posts were held by Mrs. Guta Jutkowicz (Ben-Itzhak), the lawyer Dr. Josef Orsztajn, Chaim Warszawski, the late Dawid Marinka, Israel Sonabend, Israel Szwajcer, the brothers Szlomo and Jochanan Laudon and others.
As mentioned before, the remnants of all the communities of Zagłębie formed the united organization, except for the people of Dąbrowa Górnicza who, for some reason, declined to join us and established an organization of their own.
When the late Rabbi Hager served as Head, the organization flourished. It consisted of more than five hundred certified members who often met for social events, and there were many of them: concerts, balls and performances, the purpose of which was to collect donations for the needy and loans for new immigrants. For five years I was active in the Organization of the Zagłębie People, together with the late Rabbi Hager. I was in charge of secretarial work and promoted close relationship with landsmanshaftn abroad, especially in Paris.
Anybody who calls on us is assisted and we try to facilitate his absorption and acclimatization in the country. Thousands of Israeli pounds were distributed to the new immigrants thanks to our connections with some banks in Tel-Aviv, who helped with loans, which we vouched for. We also tried to find jobs, housing, appliances (sewing machines and others), medical help and more. Many of the new immigrants, who in time settled down economically, appreciate our modest moral and material support, thanks to which they have managed to overcome their first absorption problems.
And although our means were small, since we did not receive any help from America despite all our appeals, we did all we could in order to help the needy and we never send them away empty-handed.
The peak activity of the Organization of the Zagłębie Former Residents is the erection of a memorial to the martyrs of Zagłębie. It stands in a central place in the cemetery in Nahlat Itzhak, near Tel-Aviv.
With the death of Rabbi Hager the organization split up again and weakened as a consequence. A new Organization of Będziners was set up and its committee consisted of the lawyer Dr. Rechtman, head, Elimelech Diamant, secretary, Menachem Gelband, treasurer, Mrs. Rechil Gutman (of the family of Rabbi Graubart, of blessed memory), Abram Gold, Mosze Benjamin Klajnman and Moniek Sercarz.
The activities of the new organization are not particularly noticeable, unfortunately. Except for a few loans to new immigrants and the traditional yearly memorial ceremonies, which are held together with the Organization of Sosnowiec former residents, there are no special achievements. The main success of this organization is Pinkas Bendin.
Now, after four years of separation, a re-unification of all the organizations of the Zagłębie people is being considered.
|The Będzin Émigrés committee in Tel Aviv in 1959
Standing from right to left:
Menachem Gelband, Jochanan Laudon, Mosze Benjamin Klajman
Moniek Sercarz, Rechil Gutman, Abram Gold
 Mita stretcher for carrying the dead.
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