by D. Koniecpoler
On the morning of Tuesday, the 16th of January 1945, the HASAG [H.A.S.A.G. is the acronym for a German metal goods manufacturer, Hugo Schneider Metallwarenfabrik Aktiengesellschaft ammunition factory] construction system did not have the same face as the day before.
Early Monday, at five o'clock, we were awoken as usual by the trumpet; everyone went outside for the roll call. The S.S. man and the Jewish camp leader, Goldsztajn, who had been brought here from the liquidated Plaszow-Krakow Jewish concentration camp, still slapped and kicked people for not reporting exactly how many prisoners the kapowa (group leader) was taking out of the camp to work or for not marching straight and the like. Thus would the day begin in the newly led Jewish Concentration Camp Czenstochow, as our factory camp had been called since the 1st of January 1945. The groups of workers who worked in the city were let out of the camp. It could have been thought that the day was going its normal way. Later, it first appeared that the number of Jews in the four ammunition factories in Czenstochow had decreased by 4,000 souls.
In the evening, coming back to the city from the work, we found a different camp, where everything was packed, the fear and panic indescribable. In the morning, Tuesday, all of the women were supposed to be sent away from the camp. This meant that a new aktsia [action, usually a deportation], a fresh segregation and the result fresh Jewish mass graves somewhere in a collection camp. It was particularly suffocating for the few Jewish couples who despite the hardships and pain were still together. They understood that their last hour of their life together, which consisted of seeing each other from time to time, had arrived. Who could express the deep sorrow of these [couples]? None of them dreamed that they would see each other again in this life. The same tragedy was lived by the individual Jewish mothers, who had their young or older children with them. They waited in deadly fear that in a few hours they would be torn from their dearest and holiest possessions. But the hand falls. A number of men ignored the prohibition of being in the women's barracks and remained with their wives and mothers during the last hours and heart-wrenching, choking cries and heartbreaking sighs were the chorus of this sleepless night.
The great and cruel helplessness against the refined murderer of the Jews hung over everyone like a heavy black cloud. Around one at night, the guard, the cripple Sztiglic, arrived and announced that the women were not going and in the morning it would be a normal workday. But who believed him?
Tuesday morning, 5 o'clock. We assembled at the camp square. There was no roll call. The S.S. man came and left. It appeared that he did not have any precise instructions. Their Jew, Goldsztajn, who had his large canine paws ready to beat the hunde [dogs] and schweine [pigs], as he called the Jews, had to have a little patience. Meanwhile he struck out his swinish chest and shouted and shrieked at us, the tortured and dejected. Thus was the nightmare of the 15th and 16th of January 1945.
The moon was slowly extinguished. The clear rays [of the sun] from the east broke through. The day woke up, but who among we slaves watched this magnificent game of nature? We did not even feel the cold in our bones after standing in the frost half naked for two hours. We were dominated by fear: what would the ray of the sun bring us? What had the evil devil known as Germans prepared for us?
Only the bakers, who baked bread for us in the city, were let out of the camp. Everything was in tense expectation. The labor camp was almost empty when daylight spread over the horizon. Everyone entered the barracks to warm their limbs a little. Suddenly an order: The mass murderers were all fastidious about tidy and clean.
The director of the factory, Mr. Lit, came with all of the factory foremen. The square quickly became filled with the Jewish slaves, who were driven out of the barracks. Each carried his small bundle. It seemed that the factory was being reorganized with a smaller number of workers. Laborers from the human material were taken from the various divisions at the large ammunition factory. It was a strange picture of human shadows
who had had all of the sap of life extracted by the hunger and cold, by nakedness and resignation, who strove to work in the munitions affiliate. What is remarkable? If one lost their workplace, it meant being sent away on a transport.
Tuesday morning, 5 o'clock. We assembled at the camp square. There was no roll call. The S.S. man came and left. It appeared that he did not have any precise instructions. Their Jew, Goldsztajn, who had his large canine paws ready to beat the hunde [dogs] and schweine [pigs], as he called the Jews, had to have a little patience. Meanwhile he struck out his swinish chest and shouted and shrieked at us, the tortured and dejected. Thus was the nightmare of the 15th and 16th of January 1945.
The German foremen drove away. They each had chosen their number of workers. Those remaining immediately were surrounded by the factory security (factory police) and large rows of women formed who were taken right to the train station. Our group was reduced in number. The night before, 1,800 men left the camp, today approximately 1,300 women. They were sent with a little bread, canned food; and then Jewish children left. Perhaps, perhaps you will yet see a free world. Meanwhile, you traveled to the Auschwitz death camp. And the hangmen already prepared for the [arrival of] their victims.
For a while a thought flashed in the mind of a HASAG Jew who lived in a constant nightmare. He asked himself:
The great Russian offensive had begun. There were rumors that Kielce and Włoszczowa have been taken; the victorious Russian army of liberators was marching a few kilometers from the city. The bandits truly did not have any important work. How should they deal with the Jews? The train cars, which were needed to roll to victory, were being used for the hated Jews. What was actually happening here? However, there was no time to reflect.
The divided workers dispersed to their work; there was no time even to cry for our sisters and brothers who had been torn away. Yesterday in the factory we had been more than 4,000 Jews; today not even 2,000. But who thought about this. Those hidden again created workplaces to be able to receive a portion of bread and soup.
The mood was very oppressive. No bread had been distributed today. In trading, two kilos (five pounds) of dark bread that the Polish workers smuggled in cost 100 zlotes. But who would allow themselves to indulge? Therefore, we rejoiced at the news that at noon, the kitchen would distribute [food]. The wooden boxes were carried through the factory. And the worker-slaves, starved, tired, weary from pain and worry, devoured the soup. Suddenly: Bang! Bang! A pilot was attacking the city. So unexpected. Bombs flew in the air. They exploded with a primordial roar. The air literally shook. We felt the entire horizon move. A fire bomb exploded not far from the factory and the just built barracks stood in flames. Everyone was confused. The factory [work] stopped immediately. Rumors spread that the German foremen were leaving the factory; that the director, Lit, and the major, Zauer, the chief of the S.S. and of the concentration camp, stood ready with small packages in their hands and were waiting for means of communication. What had happened? Had the mass murderers been frightened by the bombardments or was the liberation really so close that they all had to escape? Who could know? Of course, we under threat knew nothing. We simply rejoiced at the frightening explosions, at the giant flames that we observed. All of us were tortured in the same way. Each of us wanted to die quickly from a bomb rather than to continue to live such a life. We were sure that the mass murderers would not release us from their paws. Therefore, the strong explosions had absolutely no effect on us. Just the opposite, we were ruled by a strong desire for the explosions to be stronger and more resounding and that we would perish.
The train line to Germany ran not far from the factory. We observed the German soldiers running to it and stopping a locomotive and jumping onto it in a terrible panic. We did not believe our eyes. The German Army was truly in flight?
Alas, a HASAG Jew could not think about this for long, even on the historic day of the 16th of January when a new world was arriving to replace everything bad and frightening that had been on the rampage until then. Those enslaved here, realized that the large and small murderers were being pushed out. The werkschutz [factory security] leader, Herman, his representative, Sztiglic, and the entire mob of werkschutz drove all of us Jews into the camp. It became clear to us that the last act was approaching. Everyone searched for those closest to them to be together during the last hours or minutes. We repacked the knapsacks and took only what was most needed. Others did not want to take any pack at all, for what? A second passed and we all stood arranged on the camp square.
The day passed. The sky was covered with a dark-blue color. We had the impression that nature did not have the boldness to illuminate so much grief and pain. Everything became grey from the oncoming, difficult night, from this night that
was to bring us so many surprises. We, who had gone through so many tortures. Our dearest and closest had been taken away and shot before out eyes. Forty thousand Czenstochow Jews. We watched, on the 3rd of January 1943, how the two heroic Jewish young people, Isha Fajner and Fiszelewicz, who, with weapons in their hands, threw themselves at the murderer, Rahn. This was the moment when Rahn wanted again to send hundreds of Jews to Treblinka and had shot 25 Jews on the square. On the 20th of March 1943, the Judenrat [Jewish council], all the doctors and, in general, those members of the intelligentsia and their families who remained, were shot, among them 40 small children. We were witnesses on the 26th of June 1943 to how at the liquidation of the small ghetto, the mass murderers shot approximately 800 Jewish and then, again, on the 25th of July, the same number. At the same time, Laszinki and Kestner, the two camp leaders, the German security policemen daily shot and burned Jews at the stake.
And here we stood again and looked at our murderers in the eyes and quietly asked ourselves: What had they again devised for us? What refined torture or means of death had they thought up for us on this night? Who knew?
An order came to start. My eyes met Dr. Szperling. Was this our last act! We all stood arranged among our bundles and waited for further orders.
Suddenly the moon rose in her complete splendor and illuminated we human children. We did not know what this meant. Was it her [the moon's] last parting with us or an omen of something new, something unexpected for us?
Meanwhile, another order thundered:
March ! ! !
We bowed our heads. Everyone took a quick look at the square. We would not see it again. How sad life here was for us. Would it be more difficult there in the new, unknown camp?
Not reaching the exit gate Back in the barracks! thundered another order. We went like driven sheep.
Rumors reached us that street fighting with the liberating Red Army was taking place in the city. A Jewish wagon driver said: he himself had seen Russian tanks, had traveled with Germans himself over dead Germans. And all of this was happening while we were under the threat at the very end of the city, guarded by the greatest murderers, by the vilest hangmen.
At around nine o'clock the werkschutz [factory security] leader, Herman, an S.S. man and the werkschutz Daraszenka entered the camp and ordered: Everyone out on the square and march with them. Everyone assembled on the square, but no one wanted to go to the exit gate. Anyone who did not see this could not imagine how human instinct dictated that a mass [of people] would defend themselves in a time of danger.
The Germans roared wildly:
This way, left to the gate!!!They beat and pushed and it did not help. The mass [of people] drew back from the tower, swirled together. The security men pleaded:
Children, for your good!The instinct to fight among those tortured by the torturer was wonderful. There was no possibility of any sensible calculation at this moment; we struggled against leaving the ghetto driven only by the instinct to survive.
This way, left to the gate!
Suddenly, bursts of fire and explosions that shook the air cut through the dark horizon. Without stop, there was a thunder of bangs, the echo of the first explosion had not been stilled and a second and third already had come. We looked at it. We did not hear and did not see the Germans. It appeared that they had left. However, our group had also decreased. The devils had still succeeded in tearing away several hundred Jews. Those remaining were uneasy: What if they [the Germans] returned?
The bombardment did not stop. We already recognized the distinct artillery shooting. Intense flames had appeared in the city, which tore into the extreme darkness like guides for the unfortunate, as if they were crying out:
Rip apart the wire!!!
We, fiery columns, will lead you, enslaved, people to your freedom!
And thus as if pushed by the cry, a group of prisoners decided to break out from the HASAG and go to welcome freedom.
(Excerpt from the Statistic Book published by the Judenrat [Jewish council] in 1940)
As has been deduced from the attached copy, the ordnungsdienst [Jewish ghetto police] had another name at its beginning. Several members of the leadership were quickly arrested by the schutz-polizei [security police] under various charges and abuses of their power. A new leadership was designated. Starting in April 1941, the IRU [Inspekcja Ruchu Ulicznego traffic inspection] received the name, Jewish ordnungsdienst.
Although in comparison to the Jewish police in other cities, the ordnungsdienst in Czenstochow behaved tolerably, it did carry out its sad role [here], serving the German government organs. The Jewish policemen were sure that in this way they would save themselves
A type of Jewish policeman
and their families from death. For the entire time of its existence it most energetically provided assistance with all of the decrees from the German government organs so that they could be carried out in full by the Jews in the ghetto: they grabbed [Jews] for work; searched for those who hid from work, guarded the transports that were to be sent to various labor camps. Particularly sad was their role at the time when the resettlements began. It was they who had to call out in the courtyards where Jews lived that the Jews had to appear for the aktsia [action, usually a deportation]. They called out that the Jews who were hiding in various bunkers should come out because the aktsia had ended and hundreds of Jews, believing them, paid with their lives in Treblinka.
The saddest was the role of the Jewish police in the small ghetto. Their power was unlimited here and they made use of it to the full extent possible. They worked to reveal thefts, except those in which they themselves were involved, and they punished the criminals, chasing them to work and uncovering those who turned away from work. The played the main role in discovering bunkers with hidden Jewish property. Each ordnungsdienst was required to present a certain number of older people, or mothers and children at each resettlement action and they fulfilled this perfectly. In all of the hiding places, where there were large numbers of children and which the Germans and the Polish granat police [Blue police Polish police in the Nazi- occupied area of Poland known as the General Government] could not find or were afraid to search, the Jewish policemen found [them] and with their active help, the Germans could locate and annihilate the majority of the remnant of survivors and families hidden with great self sacrifice. Their sad role ended on the 20th of July 1943 when they and their wives and children endured the same fate as more than 400 victims, who were killed then in the Czenstochow HASAG [a slave labor camp of H.A.S.A.G., the acronym for the German metal goods manufacturer, Hugo Schneider Metallwarenfabrik Aktiengesellschaft] concentration camp.
Six and a half thousand Jews, who were enclosed in a small ghetto, remained in Czenstochow after the deportation of the Jews. At the initiative of the Bund, an interparty conference to create a resistance movement was called at the hall in which the Zionist young people lived (later this became the collective). Taking part in the conference were the Bund, the left Poalei-Zion [Workers of Zion Marxist-Zionists], communists, HaShomer [the guard Socialist Zionist youth movement], Gordinia [Zionist youth movement] and regular Zionists.
A fighting organization was created as a result of the conference, which took for itself
as a task to defend the ghetto in case the ghetto were to be liquidated by the Germans. A defense committee of 10 men was trained, which was joined by Comrades L. Berner, M. Kusznir, H. Prozer Bund; A. Szimanowicz left Poalei-Zion; S. Abramowicz communists; Yehuda, R. Glanc, Gewercman, Kantor Zionist groupings and Mendl Fiszelewicz Group Nadrzeczna 66. The military leadership was taken over by independent Jewish captain, Dr. A. Walberg.
They began to acquire weapons and a plan of resistance in case an aktsia was planned. Gasoline [petrol] and other incendiary fuels also were prepared to set the ghetto on fire. Comrade Fiszelewicz was given the leadership of this action. The comrades Frajman and Jachimek took over the getting through the [barbed] wire and various other points in the ghetto. The camp organization was divided into drużynas [squads] according to the party membership and also mixed squads according to their workplaces.
The work was carried on in this way as a deep conspiracy until the 4th of January 1943. On the 4th of January when a small number of fighters remained in the ghetto all of the others were at work outside the ghetto the Germans carried out a selection among those who were employed in the ghetto. The group of fighters who were still in the ghetto could not decide how to act. Then Mendl Fiszelewicz on his own began to shoot at the gendarmes and wounded one gendarme. Twenty-five victims fell, among them the members of the fighting organization: Mendl Fiszelewicz, Itsha Fajner Group Nadrzeczna 66; Hershl Frajman Bund.
After this failure, the differences of opinion became stronger and led to a split in the camp organization.
The Bund and the left Poalei-Zion believed in avoiding the taking of individual stands [against the Germans] and that all of their attention should turn to defending the ghetto in case of an aktsia. All of the other groupings believed that they had to give up the idea of defending the ghetto and make every effort to reach the forest.
The two parallel movements with two separate purposes began to have an impact in the ghetto. On one side, the Bund and left Poalei-Zion with a fighting organization of more than 150 men under the military leadership of Captain Dr. A. Waldberg and on the other side all of the other groupings of more than 200 men under the leadership of Mojtek Zionist; R. Glanc, Henriek Pesak, Y. Kantor, Gewercman, Yehuda HaShomer and Gordinia; Mutek Abramowicz communist. However, both movements maintained contact through liaisons: from the Bund and left Poalei-Zion L. Brener and from the so-called kibbutz Pesak. Despite the split, the Bund and Poalei-Zion did not withdraw its members from the combined fighting groups.
Thus the two movements carried on their work, on one side cold, calculating fighters under seasoned leadership and on the other side, young people full of fervor, devotion and spirit. Both movements had various methods of work. The first had carried out their work in a very conspiratorial manner. They robbed the German warehouses and sold the materials. They bought weapons with the money they received [for the materials]. Money also was collected from well- situated and safe people for the same purpose. The second [group] began to confiscate money and clothing, boots, sewing machines and other things from the Jews, which demoralized the camp movements. This exaggerated the differences even more. Various underworld members also made use of the situation and with guns in their hands began to eat away money from the Jews in the name of the fighting organization. These people were eliminated by the kibbutz. The kibbutz began to send out people to make contact with the non-Jewish underground fighting organizations. This was the most difficult and most dangerous work. Riwke (Rywka Glanc) led this work. The group of five left the ghetto for the forest as a result of the contact that was made. However, they perished in a fight with a larger A.K. [Armia Krajowa Home Army] band. Among those who perished were: Ramek Fajgenblat HaShomer; Moshe Rozenberg Bund and three communists. I do not remember their names.
It seemed that it was very difficult to make contact and it was not only the A.L. but also the A.K. that were prevailing in the forest.
Of the 10 groups of five men in a group sent out later, four men remained alive who had hidden in a bunker in the shtetl of Koniecpol. Among those who perished was Yehuda, the leader of the HaShomer.
We then began to pay more attention to ghetto defense. We began to build underground tunnels. Three giant tunnels, of which the best construction engineers would not have been ashamed, were built over three months, with primitive tools, without suitable craftsmen. The first tunnel was at Nadrzeczna 80/82. The entrance was through an ordinary, well disguised cooking oven and led to the storm sewers. The exit [was] at the end of Jaskrowska [Street] in the middle of a field. The second and most important tunnel extended from Garncarska 42 up to the old market where it exited on the Aryan side. Hundreds of men worked daily in two shifts in the building of the tunnels. The men did not go to work and were provided with ausweisen [identity cards] indicating that they were working the night shift and thus they received the food cards and were not tormented by the camp leaders. Mazej Krause, who was employed by the labor group, distributed the ausweisen to the members of the fighting organization. Kantor of HaShomer led the building of the tunnels. The lack of success in making contacts demoralized the entire action to a certain extent; after coming to an understanding with the underground organization about providing weapons, the delegation from the fighting organization, Comrades Mojtek, H. Kantor and Renia Lenczner, left for Kaminka to receive a transport of short guns for 250,000 zlotes. They were surrounded by members of the Gestapo and gendarmes when they left with the weapons. They began to shoot at each other. Several gendarmes fell. Mojtek and Kantor successfully broke through and escaped. Comrage Renia Lenczner was wounded, but she fired at the gendarmes for as long as her bullets lasted. She was captured alive with a weapon in her hand. However, she did not reveal [the names of her comrades] and she perished at the Gestapo headquarters during an investigation. The Gestapo was certain then that something was happening in the ghetto. They undertook measures to counter this. They changed the camp leadership and in their place assigned the dogs to two other gendarmes and spread a net of collaborators.
It was established that Makl Kilabajka Herman was in contact with the Gestapo. He was eliminated immediately by the fighting organization. A rumor was spread in the ghetto that he had escaped from the ghetto with a member of the Gestapo. It was learned later that a Jewish orduningdienst Rozenberg, who had provided the Gestapo with information about the fighting organization, had been arrested at night. A trial took place. He was stubborn and did not want to answer the questions he was asked. A sentence of death was issued that was carried out immediately. The provocateur was buried with the judgment. The judgment was placed in a bottle. Among the survivors who took part in the court, Avraham Czarni, secretary of the Jewish Regional Committee, is today in Czenstochow.
When the collection of weapons became more difficult from day to day, a workshop were created in the ghetto in which primitive grenades of great explosive power was produced. The necessary tools and explosive material was smuggled out of the HASAG, Enro and Vulcan ammunition factories and the furniture camp where the Jews were employed. Jacek (Heniek Wiernik) led the workshop. The grenades made in the workshop were of a high level. When the Comrades Marek and Wladek visited the workshop they decided to move it outside the ghetto and expand it in order to make grenades not only for Czenstowchow. This did not happen because the ghetto was liquidated two days later.
Two more cases, which they did not expect at all, accelerated the liquidation of the ghetto and the attack on the fighting organizations. A group of five men who belonged to the Nadrzeczna 66 group went to carry out diversion work at the Ost [east] train. They were caught at their work. Four men perished and of the 50 Jews who were employed at
Ost train, 25 were shot as a reprisal.
The second case was: a delegation of three men, Riwke, Hipek and Lolka, was traveling to Warsaw to buy weapons. However, there was not enough money for the expedition. Hipek returned alone late in the evening and he entered the ghetto with the workers from Enro. By chance there was a search at the entrance and ration cards were found on him. He was arrested and he was held under arrest by the Jewish Ordnungsdienst. The commandant was not in the ghetto and the fighters did not have any weapons. They brought weapons from the Bund with which they terrorized the entire commissariat and freed Hipek. This caused great anger among the Germans.
Two proclamations were published in the Yiddish and Polish languages during the existence of the ghetto. One was a 1st of May call and the second turned to the Polish working class about help for the fighting organizations.
On the 23rd of June the commandant of the Bundist fighting organization, Captain Dr. Walberg, was unexpectedly dragged and murdered by the schutz-polizei [security police]. The fighting organization suddenly found itself without a military leader and became entirely disoriented. Two days later, on the 25th of June 1943, the Gestapo gendarmes attacked the weapons bunkers and tunnels. A tragic struggle took place in which almost all of the fighters fell and among them, Mojtek, Riwke and other Zionists and Pola Szczekac, P. Lewensztajn the Bund. The commandant and representatives of the communists perished several days later outside the ghetto. However, many gendarmes and members of the Gestapo fell. The ghetto was liquidated and more than 5,000 Jews perished during the liquidation.
L. BrenerTranslator's note:
Assembled by M. Kuszner
by M. Kushner
The outbreak of war. A few people remained of the party committee. The outbreak of the war found the chairman of the committee, Comrade L. Brener, in the province at the liquidation of the TOZ [the Society for the Protection of Health] children's colonies; some comrades on the committee were mobilized. Therefore, hiding the party archive fell only on two comrades, on my comrade, Rozenfeld and on me. The flags, party publications and other important party documents were given to us to bury in the garden of Aleje 20, where the Medem Library had previously been hidden. We did not succeed in cleaning up the archive of the professional unions and of the school organization on that day. The same day, the 1st of September, Comrade Peretz (Bundist councilman and chairman of the school organization) turned to me to clean out the material from the Jewish school organization, while he left Czenstochow. On the 4th of September, Czenstochow already was ruled by the Germans, who began to rampage, as was their way. Comrade Szimkowicz and a small group of members of Zukunft [Future the Youth Bund] decided to save the archive of the professional unions and of the school organization, which was then located at our hall at Pilsudski 17. We placed a guard of young comrades in front of the gate and the older ones entered the hall and began to work. Half an hour later, the hall was sprayed with a hail of bullets. Our guard warned that the situation was threatening. After a short deliberation among all of those taking part, we decided not to take a risk and to set the hall on fire so that the archive would not fall into the hands of the murderers and to make our escape. When the hall already was in flames, we left the courtyard and
and we went off in separate directions. However, not everyone was successful in reaching home. The so-called Bloody Monday already was in effect in the streets. The majority of comrades of the party committee returned to Czenstochow on the 18th of September. We came together in the hall of the Jewish council and deliberated about how to carry on our party work and how to help the Jewish workers who were now in extreme need. We decided to work with TOZ [Society for the Protection of Health], which had begun aid work in all areas and one of whose leaders was our Brener, our comrade. We set this [TOZ] as the address of our conspiratorial party work. We also brought help from there to all cellars and all attic rooms and everywhere that help was needed. Therefore, a struggle against TOZ began by a small clique at the Jewish council.
We had no contact with the Central Committee [of the Bund] until 1940. At the beginning of 1940, thanks to Comrade Falk, we made contact with our Central Committee. We also received food packages from abroad, which Comrade Rafal Federman sent from America through Portugal to the addresses of several comrades. The food packages were valuable; therefore, we exchanged them for bread and other needed food items and thus stilled the hunger of many Bundist families.
The first party meeting was held at the grave of our fallen comrade, Mikhal Szimkowicz (member of the Zukunft committee). The funeral of this comrade was a demonstration by Bundists, Zukunftists and Skifists [members of Sotsyalistishe Kinder Farband Socialist Children's Union] in Czenstochow. The second meeting took place during the month of February 1940, three months after the fall of Comrade Mikhal, when the party erected a modest headstone for him.
At the beginning only two comrades, L. Brener and I, did all of the work. The Comrades Shimshl Jakubowicz, Moshe Berkensztat and Moshel Tuchmajer were the leaders after making contact with the Central Committee. All of the members of the Zukunft Party and SKIF were divided into groups of five, whom were made use of by the members of the committee. The Medem Library, which numbered 20,000 books, was smuggled over to the house of Comrade Moshe Berkensztat and it was given to Comrade Rayzele Berkensztat to run the library illegally. More than a thousand readers made use of the library.
The Comrades Falk, Celemenski, Frajnd, Samsanowicz, Kaufman and Lazar provided us with instructions and literature from the Central Committee. The energetic distributor of the illegal literature among us in the city was Comrade Alebarde (Alfa), who later perished in Warsaw.
In June 1940, the party committee in Krakow sent a group of party comrades to us, for whom we made accommodations and provided with work. Among them were the well-known Bundist activists in Sosnowiec, Bela Szczekacz and her family, Saski and Nasek and their families.
After the outbreak of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union, mass arrests began of political and communal activists. The Gestapo kept looking for Comrades Federman, Klin, Peretz and Prozer.
The Comrades Moshe and Rayzele Berkensztat were arrested here because of the failure in Piotrkow of the courier with the illegal literature from the Central Committee, who would stay with them. This was on the 6th of July 1941. The entire party became involved and made contact with comrades from various cities who informed us of the arrests that were taking place everywhere in connection with this failure. They [the Gestapo] began again to search for the old Bundist activist. Comrade Prozer succeeded in making himself ill and was taken to the hospital for contagious diseases. In the time that he lay in the hospital we were able to bribe the chief of the Gestapo and draw Comrade Prozer from danger. We also were entrusted with hiding Comrade Dr. Fensterblau of Krakow in Czenstochow for three weeks and then taking him to Warsaw. Comrade Fensterblau was hidden by the dentist, Mrs. Markowicz, a regular reader of our illegal literature.
On the 16th of July 1941, when I sat with my office work at TOZ, a comrade with our guard shouted to me through the window that the Gestapo was coming. I immediately left through the same door through which the Gestapo entered. As revenge that I had escaped from their hands, they arrested five co-workers at TOZ, my mother and brother, whom they threatened to shoot if I did not appear. I appeared at the disposal of the party committee,
which decided that I should not leave the city and wait until the situation became clear. When the situation for the arrestees became dangerous, the majority of the committee decided that only we were obliged to carry the responsibility for the our deeds and despite the fact that I was going to a certain death, I must appear to extract the innocent from the talons of death. I was in agreement with the majority; I said goodbye to those closest to me and to the comrades and went to the Gestapo. I was sure, as were all of the comrades, that the road to the Gestapo was my life's last journey.
I was taken to the jail right from the Gestapo, without an investigation. There they stood me with my face to the wall, brought in [Moshe] Berkensztat and asked him if he knew me. I did not hear his answer. Then they led us to separate cells. In the morning, at nine o'clock, I stood at a hearing at the Gestapo with my hands in handcuffs. Five members of the Gestapo investigated me; they simultaneously also investigated the Comrades Berkensztat. They murderously tortured us and we fainted many times. The worst pain was for Comrade Rayzele Berkensztat when the Gestapo clamped her breast in the door of a cabinet. They lay me down with my head under a faucet with drops of water dripping in the very middle of my head. They also did the same to Comrade Moshe Berkensztat. Thus they tormented us from nine in the morning until late at night. Then they sent us back to the jail. After the investigation, I lay two weeks without moving. The arrested Polish teacher who sat with me in the same cell took care of me until I regained my strength.
The comrades outside, as well as my family, did not rest. Although the efforts to free us looked like a hopeless struggle for a lost cause, they did everything to remove us from the hands of the murderers. After nine nightmarish weeks, after nine weeks of constant pain, the comrades outside managed to sneak me out of the jail. However, Comrade Brener was not satisfied with this and a new offensive was started to free Comrades Moshe and Rayzele Berkensztat. He succeeded in this only partly. There was success in freeing Comrade [Rayzele] Berkensztat, but alas, Comrade Moshe Berkensztat perished in Auschwitz.
The contact with the Central Committee had not been broken during the course of our arrests. However, it was as if party work had ceased because everything was brought to a head to arranging bribes to free us and to erase the traces [of the bribery]. A month after [my] release, in the second half of October 1941, a [female] comrade from Tomaszów Mazowiecki came to us as an emissary from the Central Committee (I do not remember her name) and brought a package of literature from the Central Committee. She left the package in Comrade Brener's house. Before we could remove the package, the entire house was surrounded by gendarmes. Because Comrade Brener was not in the house, we were afraid that the package would fall into the hands of the gendarmes and then there would be a new misfortune. We decided to enter the residence at any price. We made use of various means and various ways and everything was unsuccessful. We were sure that a catastrophe awaited us. However, we were not yet defeated. Finally, Comrade Brener succeeded in entering the residence and removing the package, thanks to a comrade who was employed at the gendarmerie.
This was the last package of literature that we received from the Central Committee, and contact with the Central Committee was interrupted. We only received messages from Comrade Klin about the persecutions of the Bund in Warsaw. We also began to receive news about resettlements of Jews in a series of cities. Without waiting for instructions from the Central Committee, we called an interparty conference to organize a larger resistance movement. A large group of fighters made up of members from all of the political parties was organized under the leadership of an independent Jewish captain, Dr. A. Wolberg. A plan of resistance was prepared. However, alas, we could not collect any weapons and we were powerless at the aktsia [action, often a deportation] that began in Czenstochow on the 22nd of September 1942. The aktsia lasted five weeks. The destruction was indescribably great. Only a small handful of our large group of party comrades remained.
The six and a half thousand Jews who remained in Czenstochow were driven into a small ghetto. We also began to organize a resistance movement there. We made contact with all of the political parties
and we began to collect weapons, tools for cutting through the wires and benzene for igniting the ghetto in the event of an aktsia. The command was taken over by the Jewish captain, Dr. A. Wolberg. Our Comrades, Frajman and Jachimek, were in charge of the group cutting the wires and M. Fiszelewicz, a young fighter, led the group that would have to set fire to the ghetto. The entire command was in the hands of an interparty commission that consisted of 10 men. The number of fighters kept growing. All were subdivided into camp drużynas [fellowships]. Our group consisted of 125 men, in addition to a group of comrades who were in the combined-camp groups. Dividing the fighting groups into such a manner was necessary because the fighters were located in various workplaces.
On the 4th of January 1943, when there were only a small number of our fighters in the ghetto, the Germans carried out a selection among those who worked in the ghetto. Mendl Fiszelewicz on his own initiative began to shoot at the gendarmes. The fight was a short one, but tragic. Twenty-five victims fell, among them our old Bundist bojowiec [fighter], Comrade Hershel Frajman. Only one of the gendarmes was wounded.
After this event there were strong differences of opinion among the representatives of the Bund, left Poalei-Zion and the remaining political groupings represented in the fighting organization. We and the left Poalei-Zion took the viewpoint of defending the ghetto and avoiding individual actions and the remaining groups believed in sending groups to the forests and giving up the idea of defending the ghetto. The differences of opinion led to a split. Two parallel movements with two separate purposes began to prevail in the ghetto. Both movements still kept in contact with each other through liaisons for a certain time Comrade Brener on our side and Comrade Pesak on their side. Frequent conferences took place to reunite both fighting organizations. However, our different opinions sharpened and we could not come to any understanding because they [the other movement not the Bund and left Poalei-Zion] had begun to confiscate boots and other clothing in addition to money for weapons that we believed would expose our entire activity. Yet we did not withdraw our comrades from the combined fighting groups. The first group, which left for the forest to join the other partisan groups, perished in a fight with the A.K. [Armia Krajowa Home Army the largest Polish resistance group]. Among those who perished then was our Comrade, Moshe Rozenberg, the chairman of the Bundist youth organization in Radomsk.
On the 25th of June 1943 the activity of the fighting groups was discovered because of the betrayal by one of the Jewish ordnungsdienst [Jewish ghetto police]. The Schutzpolizei [protection police uniformed police] captured the weapons bunkers and rampaged with impunity the entire day, murdering the large and the small, young and old. In the morning, a small remnant of the fighters still defended the exit of the tunnel on the Aryan side. All of the fighters in the tunnel perished. However, gendarmes and members of the Gestapo also fell. Among the fighters who perished then were our two members of Zukunft [Future the Bundist youth organization] from Sosnowiec, Pola and Dazja Szczekacz and Comrade Pinkhus Lewenstajn.
After the action, we found ourselves in the concentration camps in Czenstochow where the ammunition factories H.A.S.A.G. Pelzery and Rakow were located. At first it was impossible to do any organizational work. Many of us perished during the previous event and the few survivors were divided into two [different labor] camps. Comrade L. Brener, the chairman of the party committee, and I were in the same camp. Little by little we began to make contact with our surviving comrades. Thanks to the help of Polish workers, we also made contact with Comrade-Lawyer Wilczinski, who was in the other camp. Here and [in the other camp] we began anew to organize our remnants. With the help of Polish workers, the comrades from the Central Committee in Warsaw and Krakow made contact with us. We received letters with the signatures of Comrades Fajner, Henrik, Samsonowicz, Marek and Wladka. We also received bulletins from the party, brochures and money. We immediately organized aid for the comrades, for the sick (a typhus epidemic was raging), for children and the young people. We organized two illegal kitchens with the active participation of all the other political groupings. In general the work in the camp of all political groupings was coordinated. After we received the news from our comrades outside about the liquidation of a series of camps, an interparty committee arose that worked out three plans of resistance actions. The first plan:
organize small cells in the barracks with an appropriate number of tools, which would start a resistance in the case of an aktsia. The second plan: attack the guard of the Schutzpolizei, gain control of the factory and free the Jews enclosed in the factory. The third plan was to blow up the factory by igniting the dynamite storehouse. We prepared for all of the plans in a rigorously conspiratorial earnestness. The ignition of the dynamite storehouse was planned by our comrades. The storehouse was ignited twice, but the firemen came both times and after great effort succeeded in controlling the situation. We in the first camp kept in constant contact with comrades outside, as well as with Comrade Wilczinski in the second camp. One Polish worker who brought us what had been sent by our comrades outside fell as a victim when he smuggled in a small package of money and letters. The money was seized from him, but at the last minute he succeeded in swallowing the letters before he was shot. For an unknown reason, our Comrade Brener (the ideal of conspiracy) had a failure, which ended in good fortune. On the 26th of December 1944, two members of the S.S. immediately arrived after a courier had left after giving him [Brener] a large sum of money from our Central Committee. They searched him and found the money because he had not yet been able to hide it. Comrade Brener was arrested immediately, beaten murderously for an entire day and tortured so that he would reveal from where the money had come. Comrade Brener stubbornly insisted that the money was his own. After an entire day of pain, he was successful in persuading the members of the S.S. that they could take the money for themselves privately and free him. The two S.S. men let him convince them and Comrade Brener was finally freed. That evening was a great holiday for everyone without regard to their political leanings.
Despite the fact that after these events all of the Jews in the camp learned of everything that was being done by us, we did not end our work until the Red Army liberated Czenstochow from the Hitlerist murderers.
The few comrades who were liberated immediately began their party work. Many comrades had been dragged to Germany, to Buchenwald and other concentration camps by the S.S. and among them were the comrades: Wilczinski, Yankl Fajga and me. Comrades Wilczinski and Fajga perished there. The group of comrades and I who survived returned to Czenstochow and again stand at our Bundist posts devotedly as before.
by L. Yurikhte
In the morning of the 1st of September 1939, the noise of airplanes interrupted sleep. Strong detonations were heard several minutes later. There was no longer any doubt the war had begun. The Germans occupied our city and the entire area on the fourth day and we immediately felt what German occupation meant. When Warsaw fell and all of Poland already had been occupied and the Gestapo began to rage in the city, the committees of the Poalei-Zion [Marxist-Zionist], Yugnt [Youth Poalei-Zion youth movement], Freiheit, ]Freedom], HaHalutz [organization of young people training for emigration to Eretz Yisroel] came together with the leaders of the kibbutz [community]. They all came to an agreement that the work must be concentrated. The committees were dissolved and a commission of five comrades was chosen. Their task was, first, aid activity. Actually, the majority of factory worker comrades remained unemployed and without the means of support. Secondly, maintaining contact with the central institutions in Warsaw. It was decided to hide the party flags and the party archives. A discussion brought out the question of whether the group should be dissolved or whether it should continue to exist illegally. With a majority of the votes, it was decided that the group must continue to be supported in all circumstances. The group did exist until the last minute, that is, until the complete liquidation of the small ghetto.
Political activists began to be arrested at the beginning of 1940, and among others sent away
to concentration camps was our former councilman, Comrade Zarnowiecki. The remaining influential comrades hid and the aid work for the comrades was carried out the entire time. They received money from Warsaw and from several well-to-do comrades. Comrade Zarnowiecki had sent out 100 zlotes every month because it was only permitted to send that amount. They counseled the refugees! Those such as [the refugees] were particularly devoted to carrying out the half-legal activity. The Judenrat [Jewish council] knew exactly what Zionist work was being done there and Leon Kopinski, the chairman of the council, and the presidium members, Bernard Kurland, lawyer Yeremihu Gitler, helped the kibbutz a great deal. The kibbutz numbered 160 to 200 comrades refugees from various cities or those for whom the ground had burned under their feet. They were drawn to our city to the kibbutz. They were provided with documents and food. On the 22nd of September 1942, when the liquidation of Czenstochower Jewry began, the kibbutz had 208 comrades. Seventy comrades were successful in sneaking across to the Aryan side past the Ukrainian guards. And the rest went to the aktsia [action, usually a deportation]; of them, only some 40 comrades remained.
The kibbutz again immediately organized in the small ghetto and put itself in contact with Warsaw. Among the first fighters in the Jewish Fighting Organization were comrades from the Czenstochow kibbutz. The first grenades and other kinds of ammunition also were produced in the kibbutz. The entire ghetto knew what was happening in the kibbutz and all of the Jews related to it with sympathy and respect for the heroic fight. News arrived immediately that the small ghetto would be liquidated, that is, that some would be sent to work and the rest would be annihilated. A discussion was held about whether to defend the ghetto or whether as many of the comrades as possible should leave the ghetto and go to the partisans in the forests. The majority decided to defend the ghetto and, in addition, Jewish honor, fight like heroes and fall in battle. We heard resolute talk: So many weapons were not brought into the ghetto with so much effort and sacrifices to leave it and let the survivors be exterminated without resistance! In particular, this idea was fervently defended by the leader of the kibbutz, Comrade Rywka Glanc, who incidentally after her death was awarded a medal of one of the highest military orders by Polish Marshal [Michał] Rola-Żymierski for her heroic deeds.
There were hidden storehouses with weapons concealed in several houses and in sewers and everything was prepared for the fight. However, the storehouses were discovered by accident or through a denunciation and dozens of comrades immediately paid for this with their lives. Yakov Potaszewicz, one of the best comrades in the kibbutz, perished in an admirably heroic way. He was taken to the Gestapo and beaten murderously with sticks and iron bars over two days and two nights. Then he was brought back into the ghetto, where everyone had to march by him for him to say who belonged to the kibbutz and to the Jewish Fighting Organization. He no longer had a human face; he was completely swollen from the blows. Suddenly he stood up with his last strength and began to run and shout: Down with the Hitlerist murderers! May the Jewish people live! Several strong blows from the murderous gang ended his young, fighting life. Honor his memory!
Comrade Leibush Tenenbaum was one of those who maintained contact with the Aryan side and organized the sending of partisans to the forests. Wanting to evacuate another [group] of comrades to the partisans, he contacted a German chauffeur who presented himself as a socialist and already had taken out several groups. Taking the group then, it appeared that his German conscience overcame his socialism and instead of leading them to the woods, he took them to the Gestapo and denounced them to the leader.
The ghetto was surrounded by the gendarmerie on the same day. Everyone had to go out to the ghetto square. In this way, they [the gendarmes] wanted to catch Comrade Tenenbaum, but they were not successful then. They promised large bonuses for bringing in Comrade Tenenbaum alive. When Comrade Tenenbaum succeeded in worming his way out of the HASAG [a slave labor camp of H.A.S.A.G., the acronym for the German metal goods manufacturer, Hugo Schneider Metallwarenfabrik Aktiengesellschaft] with the rest of the comrades during the liquidation of the small ghetto, he was recognized by the German master craftsmen and he was shot in front of everyone.
The discovery of the weapons storehouse brought about the earlier liquidation of the ghetto.
At first there was confusion among the German villains.
When a number of Jews from the ghetto had been taken to the HASAG ammunition factory and the rest were supposed to be shot, the comrades from the kibbutz opened fire on the gendarmerie. Wanting to avoid their own casualties, the Germans began to shoot house by house with dynamite. When all was clear and the fight ended, Zilberberg (Moitek), the commandant of the kibbutz, committed suicide. When Comrade Rywka Glanc, the leader of the kibbutz, and the Slomnicki brothers already had fired all of their bullets, they tried to move to the Aryan side through the sewers. However, they fell, seriously wounded under a salvo of bullets. Their hearts stopped beating on the threshold of the ghetto.
They strove their entire life to revive the Jewish people and Eretz-Yisroel and when the hour struck, they threw themselves into the fight for the honor of the Jewish people. The fight they launched will continue on.
Honor their memory!
by Yehezkeil Brzezinski
Monday, the 4th of September 1939, the Bloody Monday, when all the adult men from the city assembled at designated places under the threat of death according to the order of the German military regime a group of comrades risked their lives to go to the party premises to hide the party and youth flags.
When gunshots from rifles and machine guns echoed in the streets of Czenstochow and dozens of people fell at the assembly spots in the streets, the comrades gathered in the upper story room at the Old Market 18, knocked out holes in a wall, wrapped the flags in the last edition of the Arbeter-Zeitung [Workers Newspaper] and bricked-up the wall.
During the liquidation of the Jewish community in Czenstochow in September 1942, on the way to the train-cars to Treblinka, dozens of comrades took a glance, taking leave of the place where their flags were hidden. Most them said goodbye for eternity.
At Treblinka, before going to the gas chamber, the last call of Comrade Gershon Prentki to Comrade Gelbart, who escaped from Treblinka, was: Ahron, do not forget the flags!
In the small ghetto, we, a group of comrades, came together every evening after the heavy labor to tell each other of the suffering and pain of the day and talk about the political situation as well about our part in the preparation for armed resistance.
Before the liquidation of the small ghetto, we often went to the barbed wire of the ghetto fence and looked at the wall where our flags were bricked in and found in this consolation and hope.
When the dying comrade, Yisroel Szimonowicz, lay on his deathbed at the Mathausen camp (Austria) and I said goodbye to him, he told me which was the location of the window where the flags were bricked in.
Immediately after the liberation, we, four comrades, left for the former party premises to take out the flags, but we could not find them. In September 1945 when Comrade Ahron Gelbart returned from the camp at Theresienstadt and Comrade Ratholc was demobilized from the Red Army, we found the spot in the wall with the flags. With grieving hearts, the few comrades who had survived, unwrapped the unsoiled flags and gave honor to all who were no longer alive.
According to a decision from the central committee of the Left Poalei-Zion in Poland, the flags, as the only remaining ones of all Jewish and Polish workers' flags in Poland, were turned over to the central committee. During a visit to Poland by Comrade [Yakov] Zrubavel, the flag from 1928 was given to him as a gift for our national union office as a symbol of Jewish struggle and death.
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