by Rachel Szpigelman (Rapaport)
Translated by Avi (Abram) Stavsky
I was 9 when the war broke out. This was my family: my parents, Majer and Etel Szpigelman; 6 daughters: Szajndl, Fajgl, Sara, Zysl, Luba, and the youngest, me, Rachel. There was also my only brother, Menachem, who now lives in Israel.
We lived at the corner of Żeromskiego (Franceska) and Okszi. My father was in the coal business. My father was a Kabbalist and well-known among the Jewish people of Dąbrowa. He was a Radomsk Chassid, and prayed at a shtibel of Radomsk[er] Chassidim. He worked for charities and especially for the clothe-the-naked organization. Although he was religious in his outlook, many of his friends and associates were free thinkers, for example: Abram Neufeld, Bernard Rechnic, Karwinski, Birenbaum and others.
Until 1941 we lived, as I said, in our house on Żeromskiego, but upon the order of the Germans, like the other Jews we were commanded to assemble in a ghetto in the Bajba (Miejska) neighborhood. We moved to Chopin St. 60, and with us lived other families: Birenfreund, Ostrowicki and Milchman. Our crowding [congestion] was very great and the difficult living conditions impacted us all, especially since we had been used to vastly different conditions. But [all this] was but a drop in the bucket of the ocean of misery that yet lay before us. The little comfort we had was that we were altogether in the same apartment until May, 1943, the date that we were moved to the Środula ghetto in Sosnowiec.
At the war's outbreak, we fled, the whole family, to Sławków. [However], the frequent bombing forced us back home. We left a second time, to Olkusz but met the same fate. We returned to Dąbrowa and stayed there, determined to remain with the Jewish community for the horror of [whatever would happen in] the war.
The Aktions in the city continued. The Judenrat was ordered to post the number of Jews destined for deportation: who for the camps of destruction (this before we knew the terrible secret) and who for the labor camps. The collection points were [ostensibly] determined by the needs of the registration, though in actuality they were just points for deportation. Many tried to get listed for the women's work camp, and in fact, not a few registered to be sent to Grünberg [Zielona Góra], Langenbielau [Bielawa] and other camps. And there are those who say that doing so helped them survive the fate of those sent to the extermination camps.
The main concentration points were [on] Chopin Street. A number of girls were mobilized to work in the German Chopins: Rozner (in Dębnik) and Baran. The girls would leave the ghetto compound in the mornings, spend all day at the Chopins and return in the evening.
I myself was not chosen to work in the Chopin camps but got employment in the ornamental gardens. My main job was in the gardens of the appointed mayor. I was kept busy working there until my expulsion to Środula.
My father's excellent connections from before the war helped influence and guide the Judenrat. That may be a reason why we were among the last to be deported. We were deported with them to Środula.
It's known that the operation and service the Judenrat performed for the Germans drove [i.e. brought] a fundamental, historic stone [wedge?] among our people, and more among the Jews who were driven to difficult conditions in the ghetto. I am not here to judge their actions, but as one who experienced all the bitterness that we suffered through, I can offer this important point: the actions and intentions of the Judenrat were to serve [according to their plans] the inhabitants of the ghetto. It was because of them children went to daycare [i.e. kindergarten] centers, where they spent the time in a good atmosphere while their parents worked under strenuous ghetto conditions. Social help [services] was given to those most in need, as well as other services that daily life required. Doubtless some ugly incidents were perpetrated which negated Jewish tradition, but for those too, [their] fate was decreed. As I said, the Minister of History will judge them.
In May, 1943, we arrived at Środula in Sosnowiec. This was a neglected suburb of the city, with difficult living conditions. For a number of days we lived with acquaintances who had preceded us in being evacuated to Środula by earlier Aktions.
Immediately upon our arrival, we became better acquainted with the meaning of
the Aktions, at which continually a majority were chosen for
deportation to the extermination camps, while a minority to work camps. But
even this was insignificant when compared to the Big Aktion which
occurred in July and August. It was then that the largest transport was sent to
the extermination camp at Auschwitz Birkenau and through this the
ghetto was emptied of most of its inhabitants. Few of us remained.
How we remained and how we were saved is a story unto itself, difficult to recall and to tell. Our family was among those thus fated, and it was therefore we remained together in one house. I was mobilized for the Baran shop. Here were sorted the effects that came back after the deportations. What we sorted out was given to the Wehrmacht. Most of the effects were from the sick and the dead, and it is hard to envision our horror at being put to such work. Yet we were happy to be alive, even though we were in continual danger. Nonetheless, we were assured we were living but who knew for how long.
And indeed, though we were few and most of us attached to the Baran camp, there were still occasional Aktions, designed to further reduce the ghetto's inhabitants to a minimum. In order to avoid surprise visitors, we built where we lived together with our cousin, Jecheskel Szpigelman a bunker where 18 people could be concealed. When the Aktions came upon us, we decided to hide in the bunker and not give any signs of life outside of it. We stored as much food as was possible there.
One evening we slipped away because we feared danger to our lives. By perilous ways we got to the Dąbrowa cemetery. There we found shelter in a tent erected at the Rabbi's grave. This was large enough to protect the number of people we had with us. This was during the winter (December), and we were oblivious that our steps leading there left footprints in the snow. The path to the cemetery watchman's hut went past the tent near the Rabbi's tomb, and one day the footprints were noticed. Our trepidation was great and was reciprocated when someone appeared at the entrance to the tent. If it was the cemetery watchman, he wasn't expecting living people there!
Through substantial bribery, he agreed to allow our [continued] living at the cemetery, and via additional sums, brought us food.
We knew this wouldn't be a permanent arrangement and our fear was constant and great. Thus I went out one day at midnight in order to find the whereabouts of our old domestic servant, whose address I knew and who had been with us for many years. We trusted in her honesty and faithfulness, and in this were not disappointed. After a visit to her we explained our situation, and through the promise of a substantial sum, [she] agreed to let us stay with her. She was lonely, and the solution which appeared best to her was that we'd move into her house and she would lock the door and [go to] live with some family members. We did so, and despite [the fact] we were hunted during those days, she brought us food and saw to our needs. This situation continued until July 1944. By coincidence or not through coincidence, the neighbors noticed noise at the house, although they knew she was not living there. Through means of various excuses, she explained the activity at the house (cats going in and out, etc.), but this was just at the time of the attempt on Hitler's life, and there was considerable upheaval and disorganization among the population. We decided by mutual consent to return to the tent at the cemetery.
Here began another [bizarre] twist in the story, perhaps because of which we remained alive. While I was still at the Środula camp, I bumped into a German-Polish woman of Volksdeutsch descent who came to the camp fence and offered to trade food for clothing. We believed that these were not actions so much for profit as perhaps from pangs of conscience over what had happened. Thus one day this woman told me her name (Trude Gorlich, from Sosnowiec) and her address. She told us if there was ever need to come to her. Her husband was a policeman and thus she could provide for me.
When we returned to the cemetery I remembered her address. Despite the danger,
I was determined to visit Trude's house. I was not disappointed. I was
well-received, and during the week I stayed with her, she volunteered to help
us find shelter. In the meantime, however, searches intensified and during the
time I stayed with her, her house too, was searched and it was a miracle I was
not caught. After searching around the area, we found an abandoned house in the
neighborhood of Gienow and Kościuszki Streets. We decided to leave the
Rabbi's tent and moved into the ruins of the house. We again came into contact
with our once-domestic servant and she supplied us with food. Nonetheless, we
ventured forth at night and looked for vegetables and plants in the fields [to
supplement our diet]. We remained there three months and felt we were being
tracked [followed] because of the activity around the house. After some
searching, we found a storage unit that had previously been used for storing
wheat in the Reden neighborhood (I don't remember the name of the street). Here
occurred an unfortunate incident. We used the stove that was in the house we
were staying in, and signs of smoke were finally noticed by the neighbors in
the area, who thought the house was on fire. The fire brigade was called, and
when they asked who we were, we told them we were Polish Underground fighters
who had escaped from Warsaw (this was at the time of the uprising in the
capital). Our story must have been convincing to them and we continued to be
provided with food and clothing. We knew, however, that this too must come to
an end, and it wasn't long in happening. We somehow lost connection with them.
|Drawing by Icchak Belfer|
I returned to Trude and she received us again at her house. Before liberation, however, we had another experience. People who had personal scores to settle with the policeman [i.e. Trude's husband] denounced him, and we became really agitated until the cusp of liberation. However, thanks to varying chaos we were saved and waited daily for the liberation, which was not long in coming. The first Russian soldiers appeared and we went out to greet them along with those who [had] hidden us and who thanked us, although they themselves were saved from certain death.
That was the day we waited for. After that, we went up to Palestine.
by Mendel Dombrowicz
Translated by Avi (Abram) Stavsky
On the 5th of September, 1939, the German soldiers marched into Dąbrowa Górnicza. In the beginning, the Germans kept things quiet [peaceful]. Perhaps because it was a city of some 50,000 inhabitants, while the Jewish community [only] numbered 5-6,000. In November 1939, the designated representative of the Judenrat arrived in Dąbrowa from Sosnowiec Moniek Meryn. He was sent by the Gestapo to form a Jewish governing body in Dąbrowa.
Later came an announcement that Jews must wear special armbands on their left arms a white band with a blue Magen-David [Star of David]. In December emerged a proclamation from the Gestapo that Jews must produce a few kilograms of gold and a large quantity of silver. Thus every Jew had to bring [some] gold and silver. Two weeks later, there was another announcement this time that insufficient quantities of gold and silver had been brought and that the shortfall must be made up. The Association gave over this amount to the Gestapo in Sosnowiec.
Later was [again] promulgated another Gestapo ordinance, [namely] that the Jewish community had to provide a large number of workers for various German industries. The Association complied and provided a considerable number of workers daily.
In October 1940, a further Gestapo notice was issued: the Jewish community must send 250 workers to labor camps in Germany. The community [once again] complied. A doctor's [i.e. medical] commission was established.
A few months later, another mobilization of workers for Germany was ordered. The community issued another call but [this time] workers would not come forth. That was because it had been promised when the first transport was sent, that the workers would be brought home in 2-3 months. But they never appeared again. The German police then, along with their Jewish police helpers, organized a hunt and Jews were nabbed from the street as well as from houses. They were [then] shipped to Germany.
When the war against Russia began, the German police rounded up Jews to help build bunkers. Mayer Lindner and his cohorts came from Sosnowiec and many Jews were taken from local work and shipped to Germany for labor there.
In May 1942, another Gestapo edict was issued: the Jewish community must
present several hundred Jews for resettlement. Families were
ordered to present themselves at the designated collection points. Collected
primarily were: old people, male and female; and poor (i.e., indigent) persons
(male, female and children).
|Dąbrowa Jews being lead to their death in Auschwitz
accompanied by SS men
On the 10th of August, 1942, a new diktat came from the Gestapo via the Jewish Community. All Jews in the city must assemble in front of the Jewish Community building at 7:00 a.m. on the 12th of August, where new photographs would be taken of them for ID cards. They would then be sent home.
The Jews assembled at the designated hour as directed. Most were dressed in their best clothing. After about an hour, the German police authorities came, while a larger number encircled the assembly point. Around 5,000 Jews had congregated there. Also assembled were Jews from smaller towns nearby, as well as those who were brought to work in Dąbrowa in May of 1942. At the sight of the police contingent surrounding the assembly, many Jews became alarmed: if the only purpose was to photograph for ID cards, why were we surrounded by police?
Later came a representative of a special contingent
Koczynski with his assistants and SS personnel as well as Gestapo. They began
to sort and divide the people a Selection. Around 1,700 Jews
were selected and sent to the Bedzin orphanage. The next day, those 1,700 men,
women and children, were deported to Auschwitz. The remainder of the people
there had their photos taken and their IDs stamped and were sent home.
[Some time] afterwards, another round-up took place, this time of men and girls, who were sent off to work in Germany.
It was later announced all men and women had to be employed, and tailoring shops were created for this purpose. Daily men and women went to work there. On 16 February 1943 I went to the street along with my 6-year old son. I ran into some German policemen, including the one who had legitimized me earlier. I showed them my Worker's Card. They were going to let us go but then one policeman said all Jews must be evacuated and I that I should be seized too. This is what happened. I was taken to the police kommando and the child was given [over] to the German police. I was shipped off with a group of 50-60 Jewish men from the transport camp Dulag to Sosnowiec. I was kept there 2-3 days without food and could no longer see my wife or child. I then was sent with another group of 115 men to the work camp of Markstadt, near Breslau [Wrocław]. More than 3,000 Jews were found there. At the camp I corresponded with my wife through a kind of messenger mail. (A Pole who traveled daily to Dąbrowa returned with money and food from my wife as well from other Jews.)
I continued this correspondence for several months, until the end of July. I then heard news from my wife, that an edict had been issued for all Dąbrowa and Sosnowiec Jews must enter the ghetto in Bedzin, and such took place. After a few days there, all Jews were summoned for general evacuation. This took about a week, and 30-40 thousand Jews were deported to Auschwitz. Among them were also my wife and child.
The Markstadt camp was one of the worst in Germany. Daily we were sent to hard work, [such as] erecting ammunition factories, where a few deaths [would] occur every day. In this camp, Jews were made as overseers for other Jews. The Judenälster [Jewish Ältester] was Brukmajster; his perfunctory servants were Herzel, Mojszel, and Basok. They were the beaters, and would daily beat their own brethren with deadly blows, murdering hundreds of Jews. On 25 March, 1944, came an order from the SS that all Jews should transit over from the Jewish camp to a KZ at Fünfeichen [near Neubrandenburg, in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania]. On the 25 of March the SS came again and carried out a selection. Two thousand Jews were sent to the KZ camp at Fünfeichen. A thousand others (the weaker ones) were sent elsewhere probably to Auschwitz. We were in Fünfeichen about 2 or 3 weeks. Our civilian clothes were taken away and we were given prison [i.e. striped] uniforms. Many Jews died daily from hunger and beatings. The corpses were sent to crematoriums in Gross-Rosen. We continued the same kind of labor, that is, building ammunition factories. We received 300 grams of bread and a soup.
On 21 January 1945, when the Russian final push on Germany began we were
evacuated to Gross-Rosen. The SS shot men [i.e. prisoners] along the way. We
left as a group of 3,000 men but only some 400 arrived [to Gross-Rosen].
Whoever attempted to rest was immediately shot. I was 2 weeks in Gross-Rosen
under deplorable conditions. We were thrown in 12 to 13 hundred men,
into a basement. We received no food for 2 weeks. Hundreds perished daily from
hunger and cold. After some 2 weeks an order to evacuate Gross-Rosen camp was
issued. A transport of 4 to 5 thousand men was organized to Buchenwald. We were
taken part of the way by train 100 to 120 men in an open car, traveling
4 days, during which time we received no food. We arrived in Weimar, near
Buchenwald. From each car 5-6 Jews were removed, as about 50% of the transport
were Jewish prisoners.
In Buchenwald we were camped in an open field for about a week, as no barracks were available to us. About 80,000 prisoners were housed there at that time. We were then brought into a barracks though under severe conditions. We were fed once a day, a little soup and a piece of bread. Some 60 people died daily in each barrack. We were there under those severe conditions until April, 1945. On the 5th of April, the SS ordered a general Appell [Roll-call] and many SS troops were ordered to surround us. Then all Jews were ordered to step forth out of the lineup. Around 5 to 7 thousand Jews were chosen. An SS doctor and an Oberscharführer came and carried out a selection. The weaker ones remained in the camp while the healthier ones were transported to Theresienstadt.
Along with the weaker ones, we were herded into a barracks. We were not given food and some 30 to 40 Jews died daily. On the 10th of April we were assembled once again in Block 49. We were supposed to be evacuated the next morning on the 11th, however we were not sent out because the road from the camp was no longer free. At around 3 p.m. the next afternoon, we saw from the barrack windows that the SS men were themselves evacuating the camp. About half an hour later, American troops showed up at the camp and liberated us. Around 21,000 prisoners were freed then, including several thousand Jews. These had survived in [Buchenwald] camp and had not gone on the transports.
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