[Testimony] taken in Jerusalem with A. (Haran)
and B. (Randes) who were in Poland until 1943
When the war broke out I was in Żarki (Zhurik), my city of birth, near Czenstochow. The Germans entered the city on the 2nd of September at nine o'clock in the evening, on Shabbos [Sabbath]. The Nazis bombed the city on the 2nd of September in air attacks. One hundred Jewish victims fell. Many houses were destroyed. Entire families with children were murdered. A terrible panic arose. There were civilians as well as the surrounding peasants who escaped with their families from Żarki itself. However, the Germans traveled more quickly and wherever one went, the Germans already were there. The Germans distributed bread and small candies among the refugees on the road and asked of them one thing: they should all return home. And so everyone returned to Żarki.
On the 4th of September the Germans set fire to the old synagogue in the city and burned it. When the young Jews saw that things were turbulent and insecure, the majority left for the nearest forest. The Germans suddenly declared that the civilian population, including the Jews, had shot at the German military and had killed a number of soldiers. And the repressions were because of this. They took hostages (esteemed Jews) and brought them to the church and threatened that they would be shot. Later we returned from the forests. The Germans began to grab Jews and send them to Germany. I myself was in a camp in Nirenberg. There were 3,000 Jews there, mainly from Kalicz and Lodz and 17,000 Poles. After a month's time, I was sent to a Nazi camp in Krakow. The 3,000 Jews were freed three weeks later. We suffered from hunger the entire time. We were beaten and they also shot at us. Later, we were helped by the Jewish community.
I returned to Żarki. The situation in the shtetl [town] had grown worse. The Nazi leader was a savage man. The Jews were dragged to work; they were beaten and so on. Once they gathered all the Jews, men, in the synagogue and told them they would be finished with them. The panic grew, but they were freed after several days.
Later, another German leader came, a bit of a better person, and although the situation was difficult, we still went on with life in the shtetl and people worked. Three thousand two hundred refugees from Polck were in Żarki, among them 300 Jews. There also were those from Lodz there who
had escaped to Żarki from their city. In Żarki, the leather industry had particularly evolved (the manufacture of boots, coats and so on). The decrees from the General Government, as for example, the yellow patch and others were not applied in Żarki. All of this was at the beginning, but later when Żarki was joined to the Radomsker District (summer 1940), all kinds of edicts were issued in regard to us. We were not allowed to trade. Work was restricted. Every Jew had to wear a white patch. However, there was no official ghetto. The Germans created the Judenrat [Jewish council] that took on all formalities. The Germans would take bribes and many of them were bribed and thus we coped for a time.
In 1941 a group of about 50 young people (a number of them came from Warsaw) organized an agricultural farm [in Żarki], as a part of hahalutz [pioneers preparing for emigration to Eretz-Yisroel] and the Hashomer HaTzair [The Youth Guard Socialist Zionists] movement. We worked on the land that had previously belonged to us. The Judenrat leased it from the Germans and it was given to us to work on. The Germans checked our farm and many among them, particularly those among them who had lived in villages, strongly praised our exemplary work. There were also Jewish representatives from Warsaw and they helped us (the Joint [Distribution Committee] and others).
The large expulsions began in September 1942. The German Committee for the Annihilation of Jews arrived in Czenstochow on the 22nd of September 1942 and the terrible days began for all of the Czenstochow area.
The expulsion began in Żarki on the 6th of October 1942. We learned a day earlier that there would be expulsions. A number of Jews escaped to the fields and forests and to the surrounding villages as well as the neighboring shtetl [town] of Piltz (Pilica). Expulsions had been carried out in Pilica months earlier and some Jews there escaped to us and lived in Żarki. When the expulsions arrived in Żarki, the Pilica Jews and some of the Jews from Żarki escaped to Pilica (which already was Juden-rein [cleansed of Jews]) and they hid there.
One hundred Germans and Ukrainians arrived in vehicles on the 6th of October. In addition, they gathered the local Nazi police as well as the border guards. The Germans ordered all of the Jews to gather at the market. They went from house to house and chased the Jews to the market. Whoever was found hiding in a cellar or anywhere was shot on the spot. Those sick in bed also were shot. Only 30 Jews were left alone to clear the Jewish possessions.
Thus, the Nazis assembled 780 Jews at the market (they immediately shot 23 Jews). Every one of those assembled (men, women and children) was permitted to tale a small package with them. All of the Jews were led to the Zlati-Potok train station. There, they were treated with the greatest savagery. They were all packed into trucks. When mothers did not want to give up their children, they were shot on the spot along with their children. Young people who wanted to escape also were shot.
The Jews who had escaped to the forests began to return to Żarki, unable to endure in the hiding places. Many of them were arrested and, when a group of 40-50 Jews were assembled, they were sent to Czenstochow (later to Piotrkow) because groups of deported Jews went on from there.
I, myself, escaped to Pilica. I was there for three weeks, along with a group of 25 comrades. We worked there with the Polish partisans. Together we filled various functions, went on attacks in the forests, shot at Germans and made assassination attempts on them. The partisan movement had just started there at that time. With weapons in their hands, the young Jews organized attacks against the Germans.
I have to add that before the expulsion from Żarki took place, a group of young Jews, particularly the halutzim [those training for agricultural work and emigration to Eretz-Yisroel] and Hashomer HaTzair [the Young Guard Socialist Zionists] organized self-defense group. We worked out detailed plans of how to cut the telephone lines, attack the Germans and so on. However, we could not carry out the plan because the Germans issued a rule that if a shot was heard they would murder the entire Jewish population around them, as well as the women and children. Because of this we did not want to take away the last hope of the Jews of saving themselves and, without a doubt, their children.
The second expulsion in Pilica, of the entire Krakow district, took place three weeks later. After the edict, if a Jew was found in the region (Pilica, Wolbórz, Miechow), he would
be shot on the spot. We, who had hidden in Pilica, ran back to Żarki. We were not supposed to appear in the streets because every Jew was being arrested. The Jews entered sealed houses. They hid in the attics and in the bunkers. There was no food. In the evening we went to the 30 Jews (whom the Germans had left [here]) and received food products from them. There were heavy frosts then and it was difficult to endure the conditions.
As the Germans knew that there were many Jews still hidden, they issued an order that the Jews should enter a ghetto by the 30th of November 1942 and they would be permitted to live and work there. The Nazis declared that the record of the expulsions already had ended.
Sixteen new ghettos were created then in the four districts: Warsaw, Krakow, Radom, Lublin. The nearest newly created ghetto to Żarki was in Radomsk (in Czenstochow there was only a labor camp, but no ghetto. There the Jews worked in factories important for the war).
Those hidden had no way out and remaining in the forest longer was impossible they presented themselves and left for the ghetto in Radomsk. Among them were the Pilica Jews and the Wolbórz Jews. In this manner, a group of 5,000 Jews was created in the Radomsk ghetto. There were up to 10,000 in Radomsk until the first expulsion. They then were all sent away. Only 200 Jews were left to liquidate the Jewish possessions.
I was among those who went to Radomsk. The Germans concentrated all 5,000 Jews in seven large houses. One can imagine the kind of cramped conditions found there. There were 30 people in one room: [including] women and children. The conditions were terrible. Food was only available from Poles for large sums of money.
We were in Radomsk until the 6th of January 1943. Jews worked in only one wood factory (300 Jews), making sleds and wagons for the Germans. The Nazis gave assurances that nothing bad would happen to all of the Jews because they were working for the Germans.
We sent a messenger to the Pilica forest to the partisans and we brought a Polish partisan from there to help us with the work because we, ourselves, had organized Jewish partisan groups of five people (finferlekh fives). They, the Poles, needed to send us armed vehicles to take us to the forests, where the Polish partisans were found. However, before the Polish partisan leader arrived, another expulsion occurred in Radomsk (the 6th of January 1943) and we no longer could reach the forests.
Three days before the expulsion, the 3rd of January 1943, the Gestapo informed the Judenrat [Jewish council created by the Germans] that there was an opportunity to travel to Eretz-Yisroel. They created three categories: 1) citizens of Eretz-Yisroel and those who had passports from Eretz-Yisroel. 2) those who had close relatives who were residents of Eretz-Yisroel. 3) those who had more distant relatives in Eretz-Yisroel. The kehile [organized Jewish community] began to register Jews. The number of people was extraordinary. They stood in long lines until they could enter the office. Three thousand Jews registered. Later, the Nazis told the Judenrat, ostensibly in secret, that they could only take 300 Jews. A new selection was made and a new list. Everyone had to give the exact address of his relative in Eretz-Yisroel. The mood improved a little. They hoped with enthusiasm and longing for Eretz-Yisroel.
Later, there was the thought that if a new expulsion occurred, they would not run. Running was beyond their strength. Constant running there and back, again a new place, again hunger, cold. It was decided what ever is, will be. They had no more strength to run again. In the meantime, the Germans added a few more houses to the ghetto and brought the Czenstochow Jewish doctors. They wanted to create a ghetto atmosphere.
On the 6th of January 1943, the new expulsion took place. The German police along with Ukrainian and Polish police surrounded the ghetto and began the liquidation. I was in Radomsk then. All of the Jews were assembled at the Judenrat early in the morning. The Jews still remained in Radomsk that day. They were deported the next day. I myself saw all of the Jews taken out. Everyone was told to take along a small package of 10-15 kilos. Three hundred young, healthy Jews were chosen from the 5,000 Jews and sent to the labor camp in Skarzysko near Radom and Kielce. The remaining [Jews] were taken to railroad cars near the train. Their packages were taken from them and many of them
(particularly those who were a little better dressed) had their clothing removed and they were packed into the railroad cars in their shirts. This picture was horrible. The crying and shouting went toward heaven because the Jews knew what awaited them. There were those among them who had escaped several times from various places. Among the deported were many women and children. Everyone was packed into the railroad cars and the railroad cars were sent to Treblinka that same day. Twenty-three Jews were left by the Germans to take care of the possessions [taken from the Jews].
A few Jews succeeded in hiding in the bunkers, but after eight to 10 days, the Germans searched every house. Their number was then 350. They were taken outside the city; Poles were brought to dig pits. These Jews were shot and buried in a mass grave. Two boys (one 15-years old and one 13-years old) of the 350 Jews succeeded in escaping, because when the Germans told the Poles to dig the pits, the two boys moved closer, took spades and later left with the Poles. These two boys later came to Bedzin.
The final end of the Radomsk ghetto and the Jews in the surrounding shtetlekh [towns] came in that way.
I personally succeeded in escaping with 11 comrades. We bribed the German with a large sum of money. It was very dangerous to travel because the Nazi headquarters and all sorts of policemen were very strict. They often checked the identity of those passing by. Four of us finally arrived outside of the city. We hid in the house of a worker, rented a sled and went to Czenstochow.
The liquidation of the large ghetto in Czenstochow, in which there had been over 6,000 Jews, among them many from Lodz, Warsaw and Plock, had already taken place. Officially, there still remained 5,500 Jews as working Jews, who worked in the labor camps in the city and in the area (Rakow HASAG [labor camp operated by the German company Hugo Schneider Aktiengesellschaft Metalwarenfabrik AG]), who worked on German armaments.
The large Czenstochow ghetto, which was created in 1942, took in the first Aleje [inclusive), the new market, Nadrzeczna, Kocza and the surrounding streets. At the liquidation of the large ghetto on the 22nd of September 1942 the small ghetto remained which was located on Nadrzeczna, Garncarska and Kocza. The old and new markets no longer belonged to the ghetto. No one was permitted to live there; not the Poles, either. Whoever was found there was threatened with receiving the death penalty. Later, eight months after the expulsion, after a rigorous check, Poles were permitted to live there.
We did not see any children when we arrived in Czenstochow because the Germans only permitted those who worked to remain (only a few children remained who succeeded in hiding in bunkers). Men and women were not permitted to live in the same streets. Men were in one street, women in the other.
In many places, all of the Jews were gathered in one place and sent away. It was different in Czenstochow: the Germans, Ukrainians, Latvian and Polish police went from house to house. Leading out Jews, they were taken to the train station where the boxcars were; the Gestapo stood there. It did not make any difference if someone was working or not, who he was, what he was, age, gender and so on. The Nazi chief of the department also was there and he designated which of the Jews would remain and which not. The majority of the Jews was packed into the railroad cars and sent to Treblinka.
Five thousand five hundred Jews were left, designated by chance, mostly young people. Some [members of the] Judenrat also were deported. The expulsion lasted three weeks because there was a lack of boxcars in which to send out the Jews. The boxcars were brought again every other day to take the Jews. The expulsion was accompanied by a terrible quiet: the masses were subdued by desperation and exhaustion. They knew that there was no rescue and there was no way out.
One hundred and fifty Jews would be packed into a boxcar and the door would be closed. There were cases in which half of the passengers suffocated because of the lack of air. Everyone stood in the crammed boxcars, then in death itself.
Many children were among those who suffocated. The Germans threw the children into the wagons like balls, playing with them savagely. Many children were killed during the devil play. Many Jews committed suicide in their homes when the Germans came to take them. A large number of members of the intelligentsia were among those who committed suicide.
This is our fate, many said in despair.
On the 4th of January, on the eve of the liquidation of the Radomsk ghetto, the Germans decided to assemble the 300 Jews who were not working just then and declared that they would be sent to Radomsk. The revolt started then. The first incident was when a halutz [pioneer one training for emigration to Eretz-Yisroel] took out a revolver and tried to shoot a Nazi. However, the Nazis around him threw themselves on him. He wrestled with a German policeman and severely wounded him. However, they [the Germans] got control of the Jew and as a punishment for daring to do such a thing, the Nazis shot every tenth Jew in a row. Twenty-one Jews were shot then. The remainder were sent to Radomsk and, from there, they were sent to Treblinka with the remaining [Jews in Radomsk].
I was in Czenstochow for several days. Every Jew in the ghetto wore not only a white patch, but also a number made of tin. The number meant that the Jews were allocated for designated work.
The Germans would remove a certain number of Jews (200 or 300) from the small ghetto every week and send them to the labor camp in Skarzysko where there existed terrible conditions, where they worked at hard labor for 16 to 18 hours a day and for which the Jews received 15 or 20 decagrams [five to seven ounces] of bread. Naturally, this did not sustain the majority [of Jews] and many died. Typhus also broke out immediately.
The halutzim young people decided to organize a defensive fight. The most important problem was collecting weapons and dynamite. They succeeded only in part. They obtained with great effort about 45 revolvers (they mainly were bought on the Polish side and also brought from other comrades in Warsaw). They organized a warehouse of weapons. They dug a tunnel of tens of meters that led from the small ghetto to the Polish side.
However, the Germans discovered the bunker when the master craftsmen were still at work. Before they looked around, the bunker already was surrounded by Nazis and the Jews could not make use of the weapons. The Germans immediately shot 30 comrades from our kibbutz [group] (who were located in Nadrzeczna Street). The remaining Jews were taken to two factories outside the city and they were not permitted to leave that place.
A number of halutz young people had left earlier for the forests of Koniecpol and Zlati-Potok to [join[ the partisan fight. It was difficult to make contact with the Polish partisans and, therefore, we created an independent Jewish partisan division. They carried out various actions against the Germans in the area. We taxed the Jewish population to buy weapons. The Jewish partisans carried out actions against the Germans at the Ost railroad, where they destroyed the rails and blew up the rail switches. They carried out various acts of sabotage at the factories where the Jews worked.
At the beginning of 1943, Degenhart, the German leader of the Jewish ghetto, came to the chairman of the Judenrat and said to him that there was permission for 150 Jews to travel to Eretz-Yisroel and he should register the Jewish intelligentsia who would travel there. One hundred and fifty, who had already prepared to take their things with them, actually were registered. They were led out of the ghetto. Two trucks were waiting for them. They began to drive them to Olsztyn. As they were being driven, they already knew that they would be shot because the Nazis would bring the Jews and Poles on whom they had carried out a death sentence to the Olsztyn forest. Twenty-nine Jews from this group succeeded in escaping (among them Kapinski's son). The remaining 131 were shot in the forest and buried there. It was later learned that this was a special action against the Jewish intelligentsia.
I will add only that before the expulsion took place there was intensive productivity by the Jewish population. Each Jew tried to work in a factory or workshop that was led by the Germans in the hope that in this way
they would save their lives. Almost 96 percent of the adult Jews worked in the factory, also in the very large one. They wanted to reestablish the large Jewish agricultural communal farm and Dr. Wendler, the German city chief, even agreed to it. The Judenrat declared its readiness to help. A Jewish delegation came there, but the Germans drove them out because the Poles also wanted to live there. The farm was settled by the Germans, who carried on their own agricultural activity there.
[Testimony] given (in Kiryat Anavin, in July 1944) by Avraham Izbicki,
who came to Eretz Yisroel in May 1944
I left Poland at the start of 1944. I was in Czenstochow the entire time since the [start of] the World War and I experienced the persecutions and resettlements there. Later, I was forced to escape from Czenstochow and to hide in other Polish cities.
German Panzer troops occupied Czenstochow on Sunday, the 3rd of September 1939. The entire Jewish population was in hiding. The first day after they took the city, the German soldiers behaved decently enough: they would enter the Jewish streets because they could communicate more easily with the Jews. They would shop in the Jewish stores and pay the exact amount. Many of them would come to Jewish houses and distribute chocolate among the children. And when individual anti-Semites would shout, These are Jews, the soldiers would answer, This is not important. The Jews were a little assured by this and left the cellars and hiding places. They then began to open the closed businesses and prepared for a more normal life.
This was the first day. However, immediately on the second day, Monday the 4th of September 1939, the situation changed radically. Monday, right at 12:30 in the afternoon, as if by order, every German soldier, wherever he was located, began shooting at the civilian population, at the women and children. In the course of just five minutes all of the streets both where the Jews lived and where Poles were located were covered with dead bodies. This was, ass it is well known to us, Bloody Monday. The Germans, wanting to find a pretext, created a false accusation that they had been shot at. After this first mass murder, the Germans ordered the entire civilian population to leave their apartments for the street with up-raised hands; they were searched. Whoever moved from the spot or wanted to go to a child during the search was shot on the spot. The Jewish and Polish population was taken to four points: into two barracks and a church and to the jail (on Zawodzha [Street]). There was such crowding that in a small cell in which six arrestees normally were held, there were more than 140 people. We were held there for three days, without food and without anything to drink. Nine people died immediately by the second day. Many died later (after they were freed) from exhaustion.
The majority of Jews mainly were concentrated in the large Catholic cathedral (near the brewery), because they lived in the neighboring streets (Garncarska, Ogrodawa, Berka Joselewicza), New Market. The Germans shot into the church and a terrible panic arose. Many Jews were murdered then. The entire area of the church was in a pool of blood.
At freeing (after three days) the population, the Germans ordered everyone to return to their employment, declaring: From now on, everything will be in order. During the three days, while the population had been held by the Germans at separate points, the Nazis carried out searches of all the houses and they just carried out a pogrom:
they stole everything that had some value. During the course of three days many people were murdered in the various parts of the city.
A little while later, the Germans began to persecute, in particular, the politically engaged people, both the Poles and Jews. The intelligentsia, the workers and the communal workers suffered severely. Among the first Jewish martyrs who fell were Yitzhak Yakob Zarnowiecki, the leader of the former Independent Socialists Workers Party, who was the secretary of the Czenstochow committee of Poalei-Zion [Workers of Zion] (Zionist Socialists) after the unification with Poalei-Zion (Zionist Socialists). Zarnowiecki organized the first Jewish kitchens, various cooperative institutions and heroically would help the Jewish masses during the worst times. He would restore everyone's courage and energy. The Germans arrested him and sent him to a concentration camp, actually a death camp in Auschwitz, where he was murdered after long torturing. Later, his wife in Czenstochow received an envelope with a small amount of ashes from Auschwitz The same happened to Moshe Berkensztat, the Bundist activist and member of the community managing committee. The Revisionist activist, Shmuel Nemirowski, also suffered the same fate.
However, in comparison with other cities, the situation in Czenstochow was much better. We continuously convinced ourselves of this because many refugees would come to us, at first from other Polish shtetlekh [towns], which were absorbed into the Third Reich (Lodz and its surroundings, Wielun, Krzepice, Kolbuck, Pajęczno).
Thus was the situation until the summer of 1941 when the Germans entered the war with Russia. Then, the era of resettlements began, that is, the Jews were told to leave various shtetlekh and to go where they wanted to go. Then, the Plock Jewish population, among others, who also suffered the same fate, came to Czenstochow. The Czenstochow Jews welcomed the Plock Jews with extraordinary sincerity and warmth. They were given clothing and apartments. The small children were taken and given care. But despite all of this, the mortality of the Plock Jews was extraordinarily great (because of exhaustion and the suffering that they had been through). Dozens of funerals for the Plock Jews would take place every day.
The Statutory Residence Question
The matter of residential rights was bizarre and changed several times, however, for the worse.
a) At first, Jews had to live in a designated quarter that, however, was very large and encompassed most of the streets where Jews had lived earlier. Beginning from the train bridge in the First Aleje, across the old and new markets up to the prison bridge at Zaworcze [Street] on one side and from the bridge to Mate's factory across Krakower [Street] and Warszawer Street to Three Crosses Street. Totaling some 60 streets.
The map of the large and small ghettos
Jews could also own shops and places of employment outside the mentioned streets and the Jews could go freely through the city. There was no walled-in ghetto here. The Germans even forbid that the Jewish streets be referred to as a ghetto. It was called dos Juden Wohn Firtil [the Jewish residence quarter]. The Christians had the right to enter [this area] and they traded with the Jews in the then self-evident pitiful conditions, when earrings or a wedding ring or a small watch would be sold for a small amount of beans, flour and other foods.
b) In the second era (from 1941 on), the Jews no long were permitted to have shops and places of employment in the general part of the city, only in the Juden Wohn Firtil, where they had
lived. Yet, Christians still had the right to come there. Jews could go to the Christian part of the city only with special permission. All of the large Jewish businesses and enterprises were completely taken over by the Germans. Or they remained under the Jewish firm but with a German commissar. The Jewish owners had to work there as employees. Also employed there as commissars were various people (Poles) who became Germans just at the start of the German occupation, as for example, Leszicki (a large merchant), Woloszcik (grocery wholesaler, earlier a narodowiec [nationalist] and Wladislaw Bonczek (previously a large coal merchant, activist with the Sanacia [Polish: cleansing political life of factionalism and corruption, a movement led by Marshal Josef Pilsudski]). When the Jewish
A ration card
workers, who carried out various work according to the orders of the Nazis, turned to them the last time for bread or a little water (if the Nazi controllers were not nearby) they answered that they knew no Polish. In addition, they threatened us with consequences if we turned to them again.
c) The third era began in March-April 1942. The ghetto was greatly decreased [in size]. Under the threat of death, the Christians were no longer permitted to enter the Jewish streets, which, incidentally, had already received the designation of ghetto.
Hunger was felt strongly then. Black bread cost 36 zlotes (two kilo of potatoes four zlotes). Despite this, hundreds of Jews still left the ghetto for the Christian streets to buy a roll. They were shot on the spot when they were caught or denounced. However, the need was so terrible that immediately on the day after someone was shot for such a sin, other Jews left the ghetto.
Parallel with this, forced labor increased. All Jews, men and women from the age of 15 to 55, daily (seven times a week) went to work at the Oest trains, to the power station, the water management of regulating the rivers, hotel service, army construction jobs, as well as at the heavy war industry and the important war industries, such as at the large Czenstochowianka, Mates and Enro (the Rotsztajn brothers' large Jewish iron factory). Many Jews would specially be sent to the two large factories, first Rakow and Pelcery which were now combined into an arms factory under the name HASAG [Hugo Schneider AG a German metal goods manufacturer that ran a forced labor ammunitions factory].
d) The ghetto was decreased in size even more during the 4th era and all of the streets that cut a path through the Christian neighborhood were divided (for example, Tartakowa Street, Krakower, Strazacka, Wilson). The ghetto became round and was strategically prepared, particularly for the coming persecutions and murders.
The situation for the Jews became constantly more frightening and grew worse. Young men from age 16 to 30 were sent away to various labor camps outside Czenstochow on special trains, as for example to Skarcziska in the Lublin area, then to the Radomsko area (Tapisz, Gidle). Day in and day out we would receive more terrifying news from them. Their mortality grew. They were brought back to Czenstochow shortly before the destruction (September 1942). We were very happy [about their return]. We did not know that they had been brought to Czenstochow in order for them to go with everyone to the most terrifying death.
At the beginning of September 1942 rumors began to spread that the liquidation of Czenstochower Jewry would begin on the 22nd of September. Everyone trembled in fear because the earlier rumors about the liquidation of the shtetl of Włoszczowa (a neighboring shtetl) had come true. Therefore, the panic grew even greater. Jews took their best possessions to Christians,
goods, jewelry, money, whatever they had so that when it came to misfortune they would be able to hide with the Poles or save themselves in any possible manner.
Erev Yom Kippur [on the eve of Yom Kippur], the captain of the security police, Major in the S.S. [Paul] Degenhardt, called the chairman of the Judenrat, Y. L. Kapinski. Degenhardt had lived in Dąbrowa Górnicza before the war where he had his possessions. He was a man of 60, with a higher education, with outwardly good manners and thought of himself as a great intellectual and aristocrat. (He had a scar on his right cheek, evidentially from a duel.) He played a bloody role in the murder of the Jews in Czenstochow and in the neighboring cities. He was the commissar of the special S.S. Division 7 (Jews Division).
Degenhardt called the chairman of the Judenrat and had him give holiday wishes to the entire Czenstochow Jewish population. He said that he knew of the mood of panic among the Czenstochow Jews, but that it was completely groundless. He knew that the Czenstochow Jews had the best reputation with the German regime; that they worked in the factories and that large military orders had just arrived for that branch of the industry in which the Jews worked. Finally, he asked Kapinski to calm the Jews and said they should always be devoted to him, adding: I am their father and care about them. He said to Kapinski very secretly that on the 27th of the month [something] new would happen in Czenstochow, but not with regard to the Jews. Ten thousand Christians would be sent to Germany to work at digging potatoes. Thousands of young S.S. men arrived at the same time, but many people interpreted this as, Poles would be sent to Germany to work because Degenhardt had assured this [would happen].
The Jews went to Kol Nidre [prayer opening Yom Kippur services] with a heavy heart. My mother said to me, Let us even have worse times next year for Yom Kippur, but let us be alive, let us just remain alive. The Jews walked with the talisim [prayer shawls] into the hidden houses of prayer. They cried terribly, like small children, raising their hands to heaven in the houses of prayer, asking for mercy. After having a good cry, the congregation went back to their rooms after Neilah [final Yom Kippur prayer]. They all kissed each other and with tears wished each other a better year, at least a year of life. The congregation, exhausted from fasting, went to sleep. The young people stood in groups and spoke late into the night, [saying] that they should not believe Nazi assurances.
The fate of the Czenstochow Judenrat was sealed on the same night. The ghetto was surrounded by several rings of hooligans at three o'clock at night, first by the Ukrainians, the murderers specially trained for this purpose (these were young people of 16 to 25 years of age). The German gendarmes stood near them; further on stood the Polish police, still further the Nazi police with heavy machine guns stood in a thick circle. Between these three rings swarmed Gestapo agents. A large number had come from neighboring cities (Kielce, Radomsko, Radom). They rode through the streets on motorcycles and made sure that everything was in order and according to orders.
The news about this spread among the population. We felt death hovering in the air; desperate scenes played out. We wrung our hands. We could not breathe. A devastating chapter of suicides began. The first took the life of Zalman Windman (Zalman the baker) from Garncarska Street, number 22. When someone tried to escape from the ghetto he was shot on the spot by a Ukrainian. However, a number of Jews succeeded in going through the Ukrainian line and they thought that they had been saved. But, immediately, they hit against the second line, where the Germans stood, who fired machine guns. And in this way, hundreds of Jews were killed on this night.
At seven o'clock in the morning, all of the Jews were ordered to leave their apartments and to stand in the street in rows. Everyone was permitted to take a pack weighing 10 kilos. They were led to the marketplace (New Market) according to houses and blocks. There stood the Gestapo divisions with the above-mentioned Degenhardt at the head. He decided the fate of each individual Jew: with his walking stick, he indicated who should go to the left these were those who were taken directly to the railroad cars at the Towarowa station Warta or he indicated going straight in the direction of the Aleje. These were taken through Wilson Street to Landau's factory building and to Metalurgia. I was designated for
this group. These Jews, almost exclusively young people, were designated to remain in the city to carry out the liquidation of the ghetto. Degenhardt did not consider any criteria, if one had a trade and had a work card or not. He arbitrarily told someone to go to the left and another one straight. When members of a family did not want to separate, and many of those whom Degenhardt had told to go straight (that is to remain in the city), wanted to go to the left with their families (that is to death) rather than separating from the children and wives, the Nazi leader, laughing cynically, just told such a Jew to remain. He ridiculed people who were being transported, saying, Do not be afraid; he will come to you later. You will all meet on a nice street in heaven.
Those sick in the hospital were shot immediately on the first morning. The old and children who were in their homes and could not leave their residences were later shot on the spot. The small children, who were in the orphans' home, were murdered on the spot together with the old.
Every group that was transported to death consisted of 7,000 people who were packed into 60 transport railroad cars. Then the Germans paused for two days until the railroad cars turned around and came back and another 7,000 Jews were again packed. Thus did go such transports for four weeks.
After the first month, the transports left frequently and in smaller groups because these were Jews who had hidden in the cellars, in attics and so on. The Germans discovered them, searching everywhere with the help of trained police dogs. Groups were put together of these people and they assembled in the courtyard of Katedralna Street number 11 and they were deported later.
Those remaining at Metalurgia (7,000 Jews) were divided into various groups and sent to various Metalurgia offices, some to the air force, army service positions. They worked there and also slept there at night, always being heavily guarded by the German gendarmerie. Degenhardt or his representative, Master Rahn, would come there. They again sifted through the Jews and, of the 7,000, left only 4,000. Degenhardt would thus deliberately divide the family members, sending one to death. Telling the other one to remain alive. Although the unfortunate Jew in question wanted to go to death with his entire family.
The Germans created a new ghetto for the remaining Jews, a much smaller one fenced in with barbed wire and heavily armed by Ukrainians, Germans and Poles. The ghetto consisted of the streets: Nadrzeczna from number 48 to 90; from Garncarska Street (Straus's house) to the end of the street and Kaczka Street (Fajga's candle factory to the Warszawer market). The Jews were brought there every day. Every morning they were taken to work under police supervision, mainly to liquidate the previous ghetto. Seeing that Jews were living here, the Jews who had hidden in the streets of the newly designated ghetto crawled out of their hiding places. The Gestapo did nothing to them. Just the opposite Degenhardt declared that he was very happy that there were still Jews. He ordered that they be treated well, especially the old and the children. Individual Jews from surrounding shtetlekh who had hidden in the forests reported to the new, smaller Czenstochower ghetto. If the Germans had until then shot on the spot every hidden Jews they had found or who had been denounced, now it was the opposite; now they did nothing to these Jews. They only brought them into the ghetto. Hundreds of Jews who had hidden in the forests and particularly in the burned and abandoned houses or who wanted to save themselves by jumping out of trains were denounced to the Gestapo agents by various Poles. The number of Jews reported in such a way reached 7,000. In addition to them, a certain number of the old and children, whose relatives did not want to report that they were hidden with them, would be given bread and water at night.
One morning Degenhardt came, asked that the Jew, Galster (from the aprowizacja [provision of food division] of the Judenrat) be brought and told him with a revolver in his hand: If the poor Jewish children continued to be so badly supervised and cared for, he [Galster] would be shot How are the small children guilty of the war,
which is a misfortune from God?! Galster answered that he had no way to give them more food. Degenhardt answered this: Yes, you are correct, and ordered that Galster now receive special portions of milk and eggs for the children.
People began to register the children, who had been hidden when the news about this spread in the ghetto. From then on, day in and day out, the children did receive special portions of milk and eggs. A short time later, Degenhardt came to the ghetto and said that, If he had the assurance that several women would take good care of the children, they (the women) would be freed from work in order for them to only be concerned with the children. A special residence on Kacza Street was designated for the young children, numbering over 100. The children were treated well there. Degenhardt would go there every day; he would bring the children gifts and pat their heads.
A while later (in December 1942), on an extraordinarily frosty day, Degenhardt came to the children's house and ordered the gendarmerie to bring the children to the police station where the city hall was located at Warszawer market. Seeing that a certain number of children who had been registered were missing from the list, he ordered the Judenrat to bring the remaining children in two hours or, if not, they would be shot.
The children were brought. They immediately were thrown like stones into the garbage wagons and they were sent away to their death.
Before this, the children were undressed half naked and their clothing was taken. Many children began to freeze on the wagons because there was one of the strongest frosts. And Degenhardt personally stood nearby and his face beamed with joy that this time was distinguished with success.
At the beginning of January 1943, 10 o'clock in the morning, when the Jews were outside the ghetto, Rahn, Degenhardt's representative, came and told everyone who remained in the ghetto doing various household work (cooking, peeling potatoes, transporting garbage, bringing coal for the cellars, and so on) to appear in rows. I was among them along with my younger brother. Soldiers arrived. Individual people among us were told to leave the autos. Later, it appeared that the Germans had received an order to provide 100 Jews for the labor camp at Skarcziska. However, standing in a rows, we began to think that they would send us to Treblinka.
At that moment, a young man from Radomsko, Mendl Fiszelewicz, left one of the rows. He was a haHalutz [member of the pioneers], belonged to the local group that had begun to arm itself and planned an armed struggle. Fiszelewicz came out with a revolver in his hand and with several others, threw himself at the Nazi representative Rahn, wanting to shoot him. However, the revolver jammed. A second comrade did shoot, but missed Rahn. The gendarmerie shot this comrade on the spot. Then Fiszelewicz threw himself at Rahn, threw him down on the ground, beat him over the head with the revolver and bloodied him. When Rahn tore himself away from Fiszelewicz, Fiszelewicz hid among the crowd. The gendarmerie ordered that the guilty one be given to them. When this was not done, the soldiers began to raise their rifles in our direction. Then, Fiszelewicz himself stepped out and said, Here I am, you dirty dog. Rahn and the other Nazis shot Fiszelewicz on the spot.
A division of gendarmes and Gestapo members arrived immediately and, as a punishment, decided to shoot every tenth Jew on the spot. My brother and I deliberately stood next to each other, so that if one of us were shot as the tenth in the row, at least the other one would remain alive. I was one of the 23 chosen to be shot.
We, the 23, were divided into two groups. The first group of 11 men were placed at the wall at the Warszawer market. Soldiers stood opposite them. We still thought that maybe they would not be shot. However, the soldiers received the order, Shoot! and all 11 fell. Those who were still breathing were shot a second time. Among them were the lawyer Rozensztajn, Leizer Trembacki and the baker Wernik.
Then the second group was told to go to the wall. I was among them, but none of us wanted to go voluntarily. One threw himself to the ground, another was pulled to the wall by his hair,
two of us began to run and jumped over the wires. The Germans shot after them.
And when all of the attention had turned to those escaping in their direction, I began to move toward the group of Jews that was on the square and was forced to watch the execution. I succeeded in doing this in such a way that I was saved from death. We were taken back into the ghetto and a number of us were sent to the labor camp at Skarcziska.
Several hours later rumors reached me that Rahn had counted those murdered and saw that one was missing and he knew [the person's] name. Because of this, I no longer went to work, but hid in a stall full of sacks and old things for several days. Later I learned that the rumors were false. However, because of my long absence, I had become unclean to the Germans. As a result I decided to get through the ghetto wires, although I knew that the chances [of success] were 99 percent against me. However, I was successful.
by Shimeon Gotayner
The arrestees were driven from Tomaszow to Radomsk and from Radomsk to Czenstochow. The road to Radomsk was a good one; it was said to be even a happy one. The skies brightened. There was the smell of plants, forests and orchards and there was a more easy feeling about the experiences through which they had gone. There also was food to eat that day because the Tomaszow Bundist women had brought so much to eat that there also was enough to take with them.
Radomsk was the first city that had been almost completely destroyed. In the road: sprayed with gunfire and knocked down houses and entire streets, smoldering piles of ash and bricks. Our hearts again were saddened. The feeling of one's own loneliness was mixed with sadness because of the surrounding devastation. However, this was not thought of for long because the vehicle went further to Czenstochow.
Were the Jews here tortured? The refined pain that was caused for them was so slyly thought out that it seemed that they had caused it themselves. The participation of the Hitlerist beasts in the torturing, in the painful accidents was absolutely clear: The accidents, it should be understood, were not accidents, but a precise, system of torture. Moreover, there was no lack of open torture.
Czenstochow appeared almost normal; the proletarian suburbs had mostly suffered from the bombardments and the center of the city through which the arrestees were taken barely had any signs of the bombardments.
It appeared that giant groups of prisoners and civilian prisoners had gone through Czenstochow because a Christian aid committee was working very actively on the main street of the city, distributing bread, wurst and tea to all passersby. Hundreds of old and young Christians were standing on the sidewalks, working very actively at distributing the food. Polish girls went from person to person, from vehicle to vehicle, not making any differentiation between Jews and Christians, giving everyone their portion of food. They did it with a full heart, but almost without speaking. Only a few of them spoke halting, interrupted words, full of pain and compassion. Everyone raised a hand to another's face to wipe a tear that rolled down the girlish cheeks.
The Polish girls and the Polish women really did not create a difference between Jews and Christians although it was rare that Jews received something to eat. The angry Hitlerist hands that guarded the arrestees did make a difference. As soon as the girls approached
a group of Jews, such a hand began to chase [them] with words and if the words were no help with a rifle.
Not allowedIt was erev [the eve of] Rosh Hashanah (the 14th of September) according to the Jewish calendar, but even the pious Jews among the arrestees had not calculated the days [and did not know what day it was]. Several Jews remembered that it was erev Rosh Hashanah when they were imprisoned in a kind of dark, underground hole in a kind of damp, musty cellar.
They are Jews.
Several hundred Jews, who were sentenced to spend two entire days here together, were stuffed into this cellar. There probably was enough room for 200 people to stand. However, this was too great a luxury for the accursed Jews, as was said, so several hundred people were packed in. No one knew exactly how many people were in this cellar in the course of two days. It was impossible to count and no one thought to do so. What the hundreds of Jews survived during these two days was a true hell.
At first, no one understood what had been prepared for them. Everyone felt the restrictions from the first minute on. However, an hour passed and a second and it appeared that they had been pushed in not for minutes or hours but for a longer time and everyone was enveloped by terror. They thought: do not stand, do not sit, do not extend a hand. It became so suffocating in the cellar after two hours of confinement that there was [no air] to breathe. The perspiration poured off everyone, but even removing their clothing was impossible because people were so pressed together that they could not move their arms.
People covered in sweat stood pressed together like herring in a cask for the entire night. The hope smoldered in everyone that the situation would change in the morning and they would be taken on their distant way. People can never know what will turn into their greatest hope. That night the several hundred Jews had such an elementary thing as a little fresh air as their ideal. That night no one thought about the fact that he was hungry. Everyone was thirsty, but no one said anything about it the most terrible thing that night was the feeling that everyone had been confined in the cellar so that they would lack air and that they would die.
Several people succeeded with the application of a series of gymnastic movements to take off their jackets and shirts. By touching each other, one bathed the other in sweat, which ran from the body. They spoke very little to each other. However, the little bit of conversation that was expressed whirled around only one question: a little air.
Weary, tired, several men fell asleep on the sweaty shoulders of each other it should be understood while standing. A middle-aged Hasidic Jew in a distant corner, it seems, remembered that it was Rosh Hashanah and he quietly and sadly began to murmur melodies from the Days of Awe. All of the wells opened at once. Crying broke out in the cellar, like in the woman's section of a synagogue. At first, individuals sobbed, then it became a general cry
Thus passed this terrible night. But the new day did not bring any salvation. Hour after hour passed. The sunny day outside was seen through the small, four-corned cellar windows. However, no one thought to open the door and set free those imprisoned. They had ceased talking about eating and drinking - they had not been given [food or drink] on the entire way here [to the cellar].
Open talk about the Bund began among the arrestees. The men breathed with their last strength. In such moments, a strange, unlimited stubbornness to live, to persevere, to spite the oppressor awakens in the most tortured people. They did talk among themselves in the cellar that they must do something, that they must not let themselves be tortured.
Let happen what ever does individuals among the arrestees said in desperation. but the Hitlerists must learn that we will defend ourselves.A fog lay in their brains. The idea worked slowly with everyone. No one even tried to control his thoughts
of the feasibility of any stand they would take. Thus, suddenly a roar arose from several dozen voices:
Water!...The face of a young German Hitlerist appeared in one of the small windows.
We are dying!...
Was los? [What is happening?]He asked as if he did not understand what was happening here. Several dozen voices suddenly rushed up to the window. One rang with supplications, another with anger. There was no differentiation in the words. Everything was mixed in one great shout:
Air!...The Hitlerist did not answer at all. The face disappeared from the small window. For a while it was quiet both in the cellar and outside. However, for only a short time a few seconds. The laughter of several voices echoed outside. It appears that the Hitlerist told his comrades there what was happening in the cellar and they, the human beasts of the 20th century, reacted to it with laughter
Water!... We are dying!...
Again, some time passed, this time longer and, in the suspenseful quiet that reigned over the cellar, it could be heard that the Hitlerists were driving by outside the window. Suddenly, a flood of water flowed through the little window. It came over the heads of those standing closest [to the window] with a reinvigorating freshness as if someone had created the greatest pleasure. A shout of pleasure came from everyone:
Ah, ah, ah!...There was a commotion in the cellar. They began to push towards the small window; we began shouting out to the Hitlerists that they should let the water flow in through the other window.
The Hitlerists did wait for us to ask; they showed their mercy they permitted water to flow in through all the windows without end. Everyone was up to their ankles in water, but everyone asked that the water be permitted to continue to pour in. The hydrant outside worked obediently. Everyone stood soaked like cats; their clothes were pasted to their bodies and moistened to the last thread. At first, it did not bother anyone. There were those in the cellar who gathered the water with their hands in the air and brought it to their lips. A kind of mania reigned over the cellar.
The madness withdrew when the hydrant was shut off. First, everyone began to feel the curse that had come with the relief; everyone was standing in water up to their ankles. Those among the imprisoned who were still wearing shoes felt the torment less. But quickly it was felt by everyone that the Hitlerists had favored them with a little water that had been turned into a curse.
However, a new hope suddenly flashed. The door to the cellar opened and two young, smiling Hitlerists appeared on the threshold.
Are you labor Jews?...A flow of fresh air invaded [the cellar] when the door opened. A burning eagerness was awakened to leave the cellar at any price. Almost without exception, there was a rush to the door; everyone shouted that they were labor Jews. Only individual, stubborn religious men did not try to leave because they did not want to desecrate the God-fearing day of Rosh Hashanah. However, many of them did rush to the door, but had to remain inside because the Hitlerists counted several dozen men and took them outside.
Labor Jews out!...
When they returned two hours later, they were a group of broken men. They had been a little refreshed outside, but what they described in broken voices was terrifying: they had been tortured outside with refined sadism.
One group had been led deep into a courtyard to some sort of toilet, which was not only full of excrement from the inside, but also on the outside. It appears that on their last day, large masses of people had relieved themselves here and no one had cleared away the excrement. Large mounds of excrement even lay around the wooden toilet building and the stink, which was everywhere. was unbearable.
The Jews were forced to clear away the excrement with their hands. The Hitler-beasts stood from afar and mocked them. During the work, they [the Germans] thought of other things [for the Jews to do]. For example, one moment, they forced the Jews to play-act in a bakery of sweets: they had to form small cakes from the excrement! Later, they were forced to taste the baked goods. Others were forced to smear their faces with excrement. The beasts beamed with delight at all of this that they had thought up and when the tortured men began to vomit, the Hitlerists gave out such joyful whinnying, like African cannibals.
Another group was taken somewhere else to another corner of the courtyard and they had to exercise murderously! They were forced to run at superhuman speed, kneel and use their feet like speed racers on bicycles and so on.
It was not so easy for the bicycle riders. First, the groups were lined up and they were asked who among you knows how to ride a bicycle and then, when dozens of young men had announced voluntarily that they could, they had to do these exercises.
Finally, everyone was placed in a line and one had to hit another one. First, one just hit the other, then the one who had been hit had to hit back the other because he had dared to hit him and after all of this, the Hitlerists battered both as a punishment because they had not hit each other hard enough
The two days that the Jews spent in the Czenstochow cellar and in the torture yard that were described here were truly Days of Awe [the High Holy Days Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur] for them. No one wanted to go to work in the morning, but they were driven with rubber clubs. Men could barely stand on their feet because of hunger and lack of air. They fainted en masse. They begged for death a thousand times.
However, death did not come. The reserves of the human organism were exhausted. However, the group was still on its feet after the two terrifying days.
When everyone was led out of the cellar on Rosh Hashanah and taken to the train, they dragged themselves like shadows. However, no one lagged behind. They were no longer men, but a weak people.
They did not know yet that they were very, very far from the end
by L. Brener
It was on the night of the 24th of December 1939. Barely four months after the Germans occupied Czenstochow.
On this night when the Christian world celebrates the birthday of the creator of their religion who preaches love of people, brotherhood and tolerance, the German Christians with the aid of dark elements in the Polish population did one of their most shameful deeds in our city. They burned and destroyed the Czenstochow synagogue, known to us in the city as the new synagogue.
The writer of these lines lived close to the synagogue so that he had the opportunity to observe this shameful act happening in the street although I did not want to see it.
Even in pre-war Poland, Jews avoided appearing in the street on the night of Boże Narodzenie [Christmas], not wanting based on their understanding of the anti-Semites, to provoke the religious feelings of the Polish population. Because our familiar Polish anti-Semites wanted to make use of every feeling of the Polish masses against the Jews. During the war years when we were under German rule, if such irrational impulses broke out on the part of the Polish population, they would bring sadder consequences.
Because of the usual fear that the Germans had provoked, we confined ourselves to our residences. We did not even come together often with neighbors so that we would not be accused of holding a meeting and we were speaking about politics and against the Germans.
Therefore, on the 24th of December 1939 the Jewish population in Czenstochow withdrew to their residences and rooms with the fall of night, although they were still permitted to appear in the streets under the police curfew.
Suddenly the wild screaming of Polish young people mixed with German exhortations was heard on Garibaldi Street (once Spadek Street)
The main entrance to the synagogue
and the throwing of stones at the windows of Jewish residences began immediately. This was the first portent of something bad.
And several minutes later it could be seen how the German and Polish hooligans threw incendiary bombs into the synagogue.
The fire quickly engulfed the innermost facilities of the synagogue. The chairs, the Torah reading lectern, the Torah ark and the Torahs, candelabras and all other parts of the house of prayer were destroyed by fire that spread further.
The synagogue in which Jewish Czenstochow took pride, the place where we would come together for every celebration, the house which had had H.N. Bialik, of blessed memory, as a guest. Here where the musician, singer and composer, Avraham Ber Birnbaum had an effect and created, this building ceased to exist.
The cry of Fishel the khazan [cantor] of this synagogue, may he rest in peace (perished during the deportations in September 1942), when the flames of the fire chased him and his family from the residence he occupied near the synagogue, still rings in my ears. A cry of grief and rage tore from his chest. He cried over the destruction of the Czenstochow synagogue.
But not only the most internal facilities of the synagogue were burned then.
Like the example of the Judaistic Library at the Warsaw synagogue, such a library also existed at our synagogue in which was found religious and secular literature. Czenstochow Jews, pious and liberal, old and young, would come there every evening to read, to do research, to study and to learn. We had a spiritual rest there after a difficult workday. Treasures from Yiddish literature, religious books, manuscripts collected and donated by Jews from all over the world were found in the library. The cantorial literature, melodies written by Avraham Ber Birnbaum, may he rest in peace, were the only copies or one of a few copies of a kind, a thing that can no longer be printed.
They [the Germans] annihilated the written Jewish word with a kind of wild, sadistic joy. It was reminiscent of the auto-da-féof Caliph Omar, who in Cairo burned everything that was against the Koran, [but here] everything that was against Mein Kampf.
It should be understood that the fire, the god of destruction, continued to be victorious, as if living people had spit out the flames into the sky. It seemed as if they were screaming and asking why?... There was the danger that the flames would carry over to the neighboring houses.
But the Germans took care that the fire would not spread. So the firemen arrived with their equipment and tools. However, their role was to make sure that the fire would not
The interior of the synagogue during the 150th anniversary of the independence of the United States, 1776-1926
spread and encompass houses neighboring the synagogue. The synagogue itself had to burn. The large tower of the synagogue with the Mogen Dovid [Shield of David the Jewish star] at its top fell down at exactly midnight (a symbolic hour). At three at night the fire was extinguished, grew weaker, a small fire smoldering here and there and burned the remainder of the former large synagogue.
The external appearance of the synagogue after it burned
Czenstochow Jews assembled around the burned synagogue early in the morning, marveled at the cruel action of the German murderers and mourned its former magnificence.
During the years 1941-1942, the writer of these lines, along with the gabbaim [sextons] Markowicz, Manhajt, Dawidowicz and Mic had the honor through various ways and means to save the synagogue from complete destruction. Because the Germans were not satisfied with burning the synagogue; they wanted to destroy the brick walls completely, to destroy the Jewish sanctuary.
But through the material efforts of the above-mentioned Jews with several members of the middle class for whom the synagogue was dear and loved and through the devotion of the writer of these lines, the complete destruction of the synagogue was successfully avoided.
Today, its walls stand as a memorial to the former magnificence of the Czenstochow kehile [organized Jewish community] and as a stain of German barbarism.
by A. Izbicki
Everything I have written until now had been about my life in the bunkers. And this was in Bedzin, in Upper Silesia, but not in Czenstochow. I pose the question many times as to why it is easier for me to write about my underground life in other places and avoid the horrible tragedy of my own city? Is it that I am unconsciously afraid that my heart will burst or that only when I think about something else am I successful in freeing myself from the terrible images that always appear before my eyes and accompany me every step of the way?
And how can one write something about Czenstochow? My entire life would be too short to completely describe even one street, one alley, Garncarska, for example! Where will I find the words and the years to describe how our alley looked on the day of destruction? I will now try to describe one house. Let this house be 23 Garncarska.
It was a house like all of the houses on Garncarska, Mostowa, Korczaka, Senatorske or Kaza. Three tailors, two quilters, a glazier, a carpenter, a tinsmith, hat maker, bakery, a dairy, three market sellers, a dayan [religious judge], a house of prayer actually an entire shtetl [town]. Almost all of the girls went to the factories. The boys all went to kheder [religious primary school]. However, everyone learned something different. One was a fervid Zionist, another a leader of the young Bundists, a third was a leader of the communist movement. And not only did they study in the same kheder, but they played in the same sand in the courtyard, just as their fathers and grandfathers had done before them. And there would have been more generations in the same corner playing in the same sand. But I remember, yes, I remember very well that on the day, on the last day, that children, the last children played in the same corner…
Everyone was in the courtyard that day. Everyone, everyone, women, children, young and old. Children from other houses came here with their fathers and mothers. The fathers and the mothers came to the old courtyard of their youth, to the house of their youth, to their parents' house. And everyone was in the courtyard! As the finale of a horrible play.
Half of the Jews already had been taken away from the city. Street after street, house after house.
It was already the 10th day that the ghetto had been surrounded. Today was again a quiet day. While last night, 60 wagons had gone to Treblinka. They would not return until the morning. There was no doubt that in the morning it would be our turn. And everyone in the courtyard was silent and if a word was spoken it would be heard clearly by all. And every word cut like a knife:
A girl said, My young years, alas, my young years, woe is me.
And a grey grandmother said, And for what have I lived to be so old, for what has God given me so many years!
And the children play in the sand, weak, tired, pale. The day before yesterday, the housing committee had divided the last food that was made from the dirt that was scraped off the ground in the bakery. Everyone received a spoonful of soup. It was already three weeks since the ghetto was surrounded with murder, so that a cat could not worm its way outside. Night was falling, the last night. Everyone knew it. Clearly! The question that the small children, the adults asked suffocated them, Why? Why?…
And yet a little joy appeared that went from house to house. The little bit of joy on the last evening before annihilation. It was thus:
A son could not watch the grief of his old mother and he told a lie taken from thin air that in another courtyard there were signs that the extermination had ended… that an order had arrived from Berlin… and that the last transport had been sent back home… and we had been helped. And believing it recklessly like children, one told the other. Everyone believed it because they wanted to believe it… There immediately was great joy. We had new strength. We jumped with joy, wished each other mazeltov [good luck, a wish of congratulations], kissed each other and cried with joy.
Anyone with doubts immediately saw that this was the truth… Because one could see that they were dancing with joy in the neighboring courtyard and they were shouting over to us, mazeltov, mazeltov!
We talked and tried to learn what had brought the help until the grey day. One said that it had been ordered from Berlin because the Jews were needed for work. Another said that the same would be done to the Germans in America, so they [the Germans] were afraid.
But why was the entire guard still standing around the ghetto, someone asked.
Why? Because they had not received the order, another one answered immediately.
They wanted to interpret everything for the good; they believed until the last minute, hoped, wanted to live. But…
A few hundred wagons on carriage springs drove into the ghetto at six o'clock in the morning. The same wagons as would appear before in order to take away the old and the children to train cars and to gather the dead. (The old and the children who could not come out to the street were shot in the houses and their bodies were carried out on stretchers. It was not necessary to wait for long this time. Let it already end… Survive it… It already was good for those who had gone with an earlier transport… They had already survived…
Thus appeared the last day and the last night in the house on Garncarska in which I was born. I had seen everything myself and still do not believe it all myself that it is no longer there… Although I was one of the last who left the house to be taken to the wagons. Later, I was taken with many other young people to make order in the houses (we were left for a short time for this purpose) and I was in my house, too. We did not see any living people, many dead. Walls were sprayed with blood, windowpanes were broken. And everything was so black, so dark. I saw everything myself, but when I think about my house on Garncarska today, I still see the courtyard of the past, entirely as it once was. I also see the children like me… and the same corner in which I played…
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