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[Page 330]

In the Ghetto

by Mendel Dombrowicz

Translated by Avi (Abram) Stavsky

In the month of November, 1939, the Gestapo arrived in Dąbrowa. Immediately, it was promulgated to the Jewish community who were there before the war, that they were to don white armbands with a blue Star of David on their left forearms. They were also ordered to bring [their] silver and gold. In the community was a gold merchant named Miodownik, who analyzed and weighed the gold.

A few days afterwards, the Jews were again summoned and told the gold wasn't sufficient and that more should be brought. Later a ghetto was established along the [following] streets: Kościuszko, Sienkiewicza, 3 of May, Sobieskiego, Okrzei, and Krótka. Every day the Jewish community was obligated to produce Jewish laborers to the German police. The community had a communal soup kitchen, which offered [free] soup to poor Jews every day. From time to time, Jews were caught there and sent off to Germany and concentration camps. Later on, they began to be shipped to Auschwitz.

In the Sabbath of the new moon for the month of Sivan, 1942, the Jewish community ordered 500 of the Jewish poor to assemble in the synagogue. Among them was Reb Ruwen Lichtcyjer of blessed memory. He decided he was not going to the assembly. When he was asked why, he replied that if he was needed, to call for him on Sunday. The Jews were sent off and Rabbi Ruwen remained. That same year he passed away in Dąbrowa.

In August 1942, a command was issued from the Jewish Community, that every Jewish person from tiny tots to the elderly, were to present themselves in an area near the Communal headquarters. They were to be dressed nicely because the Gestapo was issuing new Lichtbilder (identity cards). The Jews were promised that afterwards they could remain in their homes until the end of the war. The Jews assembled in time and the German police came and fenced them in. The Gestapo made a selection and on that day, sent a third of those Jews to Auschwitz. It was said that on that day, 1,700 Jews were sent off from Dąbrowa.

In February 1943, I was walking with my son, then 6 years old. The German police arrested me. They called for a Jewish policeman to take my son to the Jewish Community [building]. I was sent to Germany, to the Markstadt concentration camp. There I was put to very hard work. (Krupp factories were erected there). We received 400 grams of bread and in the evenings, when we returned from work, were given lunch. Only a few were able to eat this, as it was made mainly from weeds. Those who had money were able to buy [additional] bread at work. When we returned from work, we were searched, and those who were found with hidden bread on them were beaten severely. Life [for us] was very hard, but that wasn't the end of the war. On a Shabbat during March, 1944, the S.S. came and shipped us to a concentration camp (K.C.Z.). Life was even harder. Every “Blockältester”[1] was permitted to beat [prisoners] to death. In winter and summer, we had strenuous physical work from daybreak to sundown. The S.S. had vicious guard dogs and ordered them to attack us. People collapsed and died, from hunger and from fear.

One morning I went out to work, and the work foreman said I was to take two buckets and bring back coal. When I returned, several S.S. officers were waiting outside. They asked me if I had the keys to the foreman's office. I opened the office door for them and they began asking me where the Jews' money was. I replied that I wasn't aware that Jews had any money. When they heard this, I was beaten until blood flowed. They found the foreman's watch there and thought it belonged to me and thereby beat me. When the foreman (who was a German) came, he explained to me what had happened.

Thus days and nights passed for me, filled with dread and trembling. I forgot my family and all those I had loved. The Holocaust which enveloped my community and family remained with me to the end.

[Page 331]

dab331.gif [50 KB] - "Extermination camp"
“Extermination camp”
drawing by S. Balicki

“The sun shone, the earth bloomed and the slaughterer slew…”
(from 'City of the Killings', C. N. Bialik)

[Page 332]

Menachem Szpigelman's Story

Translated by Avi (Abram) Stavsky

After the Aktions in Dąbrowa, I arrived with my family and relatives in the Środula ghetto, a central camp for the Jews of Zagłębie, a way-station on the path to extermination. Thanks to several situations… or miracles… my blond hair, Aryan looks, and the strength of somehow who has nothing to lose, I survived.

During our stay in Środula, we felt that they wanted to eliminate us, and we looked for means of rescue. On one of the streets I was recognized by the Poles and informed upon by them to a German policeman. Going with him, I attempted to bribe him, but he showed me we were being followed by those same Poles; thus, even if he wanted, he couldn't free me.

Under arrest at the police station were two other Jews, a man and a woman. I was questioned and examined. Afterwards, we were called to listen to a diabolical speech by Hitler on the radio against the Jewish people. I declined to listen. The next day we were taken to Sosnowiec chained in handcuffs. At the entrance to the tram, the policeman removed the handcuffs but pleaded with us not to think of escape, because he could pay for that with his life. The German's attitude to us was decent, maybe because of his conscience or maybe because I had promised him money. (The money was hidden in the sole of my shoe and had not been found when I was searched). In any event, he endeavored in Sosnowiec to get us back to where he took us from – to Środula.

In Środula was the “regular” place where people were kept whose fate had yet to be determined – i.e. before the “Selection.” If they had been chosen for “transport”, they were concentrated in a building called “the hospital.” When we returned to Środula with the policeman, we were put in with the “regulars.” This was observed by a Jewish guard, who, for punishment at our escape, placed us in the “hospital.”

The German police officer again intervened, and with the help of my cousin, Jecheskel Szpigelman I was released from the “hospital.”

On the evening of the 9th of Av [10th of August], 1943, at 2:00 in the morning, we were awakened by fierce screams from Gestapo men calling “Raus!” Spontaneously, I decided not to go out to the assembly, but hid with my parents and siblings in the basement of a neighbor's [house], my cousin Jecheskel Mastszmiszyc. The next day, the Gestapo announced that anyone who didn't show up for assembly was sentenced to death. My parents and sister Sara were successfully hidden in that basement. However, me and 4 siblings were discovered and taken to the lines for deportation. There we saw young women dressed in white sisters of mercy uniforms come out and distribute water to the thirsty. We dressed our sister Rachel in a white garment we had with us, and found a bucket. We thus “sent” her for water for us. A few minutes later I found an armband that said “fireman”, and slipped it on my arm. We found more armbands for my sisters, but [for them] it was too late, as they had been chosen for selection and were deported.

The Germans announced that the remaining [Jews] would not be deported if they assembled for work. Hundreds assembled and were chosen for “selection.” By a miracle, my father, my sister Rachel and I were spared. My sister Sara didn't qualify and was sent on an Auschwitz-bound transport. My mother remained [hidden] in the basement and was spared.

After the purge, we were put to work collecting goods, money, etc. from the rooms now abandoned. We were also employed as shoemakers fixing shoes in a “shop.” The Germans orchestrated a new selection every Tuesday. Those whose fate it was to be selected was sent to the “hospital”, in preparation for deportation to Auschwitz. Because we had been seeing what was going on, we decided to prepare a shelter in the basement [to be used] until after the rage was over. Underneath the house was a basement. We shortened the length of the basement to 4 meters by means of a wall constructed of brick and odd stones, camouflaged by dirty clay and old mortar. We devised an entrance for emergencies hidden by a stone which could be opened when necessary. The entrance to this bunker was via a hole in the floor under the stove. It was concealed by a cover which had a rug on it. Everything was done secretly, so that no one [else] was aware of it. Mother didn't have a work permit, so she was “illegal, thus she was most often hid in the bunker, especially on Tuesdays.

This is pretty much the way things continued for about 4 months, until 1.12.1943 [Text shows the date as 12.1.43 but this is probably a typo]. That night, my cousin produced some bad news: the Gestapo was preparing a large-scale “action” that might completely empty the ghetto. We all went down into the bunker, 18 of us, into [a space of] 4x4 meters. There were shelves for sleeping, a small amount of food and some water. Thus we spent the first night. In the morning we heard cries from the Germans, and around two hours later, close to ten a.m., a frightening silence. We had no idea what brought the complete silence, but only later after a few hours, we learned a general transport had taken place. That night, the Gestapo came into the house and began to go wild and shout, “Jecheskel, give us spirits [i.e. alcohol].” They vented their happiness because they knew this Jecheskel, who fooled them not just once, was no longer around – he had been deported to Auschwitz with the rest.

[Page 333]

dab333.jpg [35 KB] - Last journey to Auschwitz…
Dąbrowa Jews, being led by the murderous Nazis
on their last journey to Auschwitz

(at the railway station)

Actually, there were 17 people in the bunker: 3 men: myself, Pejsach Szpigelman and Lajbl Bajtner; 11 women, 2 boys and 1 girl. The basement had been designed to accommodate 12 souls, but at the last minute we were joined by a Jewish Czech family of four. We certainly could not denounce them without endangering ourselves. After a day the situation became unbearable. The little food and water we had ran out, [while] the cramped condition, lack of light and oppressive air (we obtained light and air through two small holes the size of bricks) began to portend trouble. We discussed what to do. I volunteered to go out via the emergency exit. I emerged into our room and found some bread, water and clothing. Everything had been left in place. I crept around very cautiously, as I could see police roaming outside. I tiptoed so as not to make a sound, gathered what I could and returned to the bunker. The little food I had brought back lasted us for barely a day. The next day I emerged again. I found some moldy bread but it wasn't enough. I decided to try the other rooms. Suddenly I stepped on some glass and made a noise. The police shined their flashlights in. I did not try to escape but hid between the door and the wall and waited quietly until the lights were out again. When I returned with my booty to the basement, I told them what had happened. The boys, who until now were never against my going out, decided that someone else should now go out to look, but there were no volunteers. We stayed for a few more days, [drinking] collected rainwater through a hole in the ceiling which we rationed: one sip for someone feeling faint. If anyone tried to take more, the bottle was seized from him by force. We were compelled to be cruel in order to save our strength for a special need.

Our situation worsened daily. We could not go on this way. We imagined death from suffocation and hunger. We resolved to collect 10,000 Marks, and that I and another person would go out and try to bribe the police. Pejsach Szpigelman volunteered. We pooled our money: 5000 Marks from each of us, Pejsach and myself. We decided that if we were successful, we'd emerge from the bunker in couples and in a line. First [would go] Pejsach's wife and son; then my parents; then Bajtner with his sister, etc. We lit candles and said Tehilim (Psalms). Everyone prayed for success.

I exited from the emergency escape hatch and opened the cover, so that my cousin Pejsach Szpigelman could get out. The two of us went into the big house. We opened a window which faced a railroad track. When a locomotive would pass and provide a smoke screen would be the only time we could [expect to] escape undetected. We stayed until we were spotted by police and one shouted: “Szpigelman, how did you get here?” We told him there were others inside.

[Page 334]

We told him about the money with the proviso that he let us out from there. The policeman known to us told us to wait until he'd discuss this idea with his friends. He returned a few minutes later with a favorable answer. He said we should go back in to hide until the inspectors had passed, and the signal to move out would be two shots fired. We returned to the basement and told of our success. We also told the others to be ready to leave in dead silence. Some minutes passed and there was no sound of gunfire. We began to be afraid we were betrayed, so that they'd have a chance to search our hideout [for more people]. We were on the verge of despair when we heard two consecutive gunshots. Our joy, mixed with fear and anxiety, was great. We all emerged from the basement as planned, walking on tiptoe so as to make no noise. Also not altogether, so as to camouflage the real number of people. Pejsach Szpigelman ran to give the police the money and he would be the last. I gave him the money and went out.

Suddenly we heard another two shots. At first we thought maybe this was a ruse to convey the impression we were being chased after. Everyone scattered. It was only later that we realized that the two shots had hit Szpigelman. How this happened – and why – is a secret Pejsach Szpigelman took with him to the grave.

Recorded by Efraim Lenczner and Juda Londner

dab334.jpg [46 KB] - One of the Jews of city in the Nazi period, wearing a yellow Magen David
One of the Jews of city in the Nazi period,
wearing a yellow Magen David

  1. Camp prisoner functionary, block supervisor. return

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