From Towja Lis's Diary, Blessed be his memory
Translated by Dr. Hannah Berliner Fischthal
The Klajn Family
The Klajns were a rich family that branched out and grew up almost magically in Dąbrowa over the course of twenty years. The city did not have many rich Jews; you could count them on your fingers. Here was a family, graced by God with private ownership, which enabled it to become one of the richest and most renowned families in the city of Dąbrowa Górnicza in just a short time.
Three brothers and sisters in the village of Sławków suddenly felt a wonderful energy sprouting. They started without money, but they had feelings of love and responsibility toward each other. Work was practically a religion to them. The banging of machines and hammers never disturbed them. On the contrary, they found it melodious. They were blessed with virtues, although they did not flash them in front of people's eyes. They were always simple and sincere in their relations with the community. They dressed simply and led their family's lives without commotion. They were very skilled. They transformed old machines and produced good materials that were highly regarded within and outside of Poland.
The family came from Sławków to Dąbrowa right after Poland
|The multi-branched Klajn family
Owners of the Klajn Brothers steel product plant in Dąbrowa
They did not build villas for themselves in the suburbs. Instead, they
renovated old apartments in the foundry and lived there.
|In the Klajn Brothers steel product plant|
They lived together like a dynasty. The heads were Abram-Jakob and Wolf Klajn; nobody would dare to oppose them. The oldest brother Wolf was a short Jew with a nice, smiling face. He always spoke in a quiet tone; he never knew what it meant to scream. He was a skilled worked graced by God; diligent as an ant, he never knew how to rest. At dawn, right after morning prayers and laying Tefillin [phylacteries], he went down to the factory. He came back home late in the night. He was thrifty, and not ashamed to bend down and pick up an old piece of iron and carry it to its proper place.
The second brother, Abram-Jakob, a typical Jewish intellectual, put his wisdom and much love into the factory. There was not a corner that was not utilized for productive purposes.
The third brother, Szmuel, a man of the people, was leader of the workshops. He labored a whole day among the workers. He knew the virtues and bad points of the Christian workers. He worked hard attempting to bring unity among all the employees.
The oldest son of Reb Wolf was Symcha, a thin, pale, young man. The three brothers were masters in the factory; he was master in the office, putting the administrative organization on a high level, which served hundreds of workers. In the office were Jewish representatives, and among them was also Edzia Klajn, the daughter of Reb Wolf. She was a blonde, pretty, young girl, who later married Efraim Wajnryb, a young doctor, a resident of Dąbrowa. Also Genia and Frania, daughters of Abram-Jakob and Regina, worked there, as well as Sale, daughter of Gitl Lis and a sister of the three brothers. She became a widow at a young age.
Jewish officials, agents, and businessmen formed connections with the three
brothers. This was a good influence on Dąbrowa, poor in Jewish industry,
and a good influence on the general activities of the Jewish community. The
second generation of the Klajn family followed the paths of their parents in
diligence and in activity. An example was Jakob-Klajn, the son of Wolf; he was
a capable, good skilled worker.
|A group of workers from the Klajn brothers factory
during a work break (1930)
Dąbrowa was an industrial town, where thousands of Christian workers were employed. A Jew could not get his foot in the door of a factory. This was especially a problem for young Jews, for whom being productive was a question of life or death. They found work with the Klajn Brothers, where they earned good wages, supported themselves, and helped their parents. Jewish pioneers who were preparing to go to Palestine found special sympathy from the Klajn Brothers, enabling them to earn enough for the necessary expenses, which was a huge amount of money in those difficult economic times. That is why their names are always remembered with honor.
The communal life of the Jews in the city was active, and it included all
circles and currents of thought. There was no Jewish holiday that did not
receive some expression in the town. The amount of money spent on these events
was equal to that of other towns. The Klajn brothers always contributed with
ease and generosity, as they were completely tied to all the problems of the
Jewish community, until the tragic, fated hour.
1934. Anti-Semitism, raging in Poland, also visited our town of coalmines and workers' solidarity and national equality of rights. In spite of some slight allowances, Jewish life became continuously more constrained. Jews lived in fear; breaking windows in Jewish shops became a frequent occurrence.
1936-1937. Pogroms against Jews took place. Jews were thrown off trains and tramways, and all work places were locked. The Poles, with hatred, led boycotts against Jewish businesses and stores. The economic bases of the community were shrunken. Life became hopeless and sad.
I realized that the foundation was burning under our feet, so I began to think
about making aliyah to Palestine and leading a new life in a kibbutz. But my
fate was different.
1939-1940. With the marching in of the German murderers into Poland, Jewish people left their homes and began to wander, drifting wherever their eyes could see. They wandered day after day, through bodies of water and swamps, through forests and empty spaces; they fell like flies from hunger and cold. Those who travelled by railroad were bombed and murdered. The Jews caught by the evil Germans were thrown into trucks and driven to their extermination.
I lived through nights of fear. Once at night two S.S. men came to me. Within
five minutes I was led to a gathering point. Some Jews were taken to Germany
for forced labor, and the rest sent to Auschwitz. In the beginning, those who
became sick at a labor camp were sent home. I noticed Dawid Krakowski and
Lajtner among them. The Judenrat sent a second group of 500 strong Jews for
forced labor. They came back more dead than alive after three months, skinny as
sticks, as they had received practically no food or drink. I recognized Zygmunt
Stawski among them, Jekel Rozencwajg with his father-in-law Zygl Rozenberg, and
Kalman Mosze Szenhaft, the agent of the Klajn Brothers.
The Klajn Brothers and their murders
The first victim in the town was Szmuel Klajn. Regardless of the fact that he
was so renowned and beloved even among the Christian workers, these same
Christians betrayed their good friends to the Germans at the earliest
opportunity. They made the accusation against Szmuel Klajn that he read
primarily anti-German newspapers. In the middle of the night, the S.S. took him
from his home. All efforts to free him were useless. Afterwards his wife
received a bag containing her husband's ashes. Later, his 20 year-old daughter
Frania became ill from an infection. Not receiving any medicinal help, she died
soon after her father. His wife and two sons were taken to Auschwitz.
|Jewish and Christian workers
in the Klajn Brothers steel product plant in Dąbrowa
Wolf Klajn and his family were deported to Auschwitz. Wolf, in line to go to the crematorium, was luckily sent to Germany because he was a skilled worker. He was saved at the last second. Later, after the war, he came to Israel. He attempted to continue to build, but he had no more strength. He died in Israel. His three children remained alive, Jakob, Josef and Genia.
Symcha Klajn died of hunger in Lemberg [Lviv; Lwów], under the Russian occupation. His entire family was deported.
Of the Slomnicki family, important to the Kljan brothers, who numbered 10 souls, only one son survived, who lived in Holon. Of the Fendryk family, also employed by Klajn, one son Mordechai survived, who lives now in America. From the family Hajsztater nobody survived.
Cwi Dawid Lis and Jumek Arbusman let themselves down a rope from a house four stories high that was surrounded by S.S. murderers. They were shot dead. The wife of Cwi Lis was killed in Auschwitz. Motek Arbusman hanged himself in the camp workshop. Wolf Lis and two sons were murdered. Towja Lis's wife, Regina, with two daughters, jumped from a train, and the German murderers shot and killed them. Szenhaft, agent of the Klajn Brothers, who lived on May 3 Street, was taken to Auschwitz. The engineer Bialski, son-in-law of Abram-Jakob Klajn, returned from Russia. The Germans immediately sent him to Auschwitz. Zeligfreund, a lawyer, second son-in-law of Abram-Jakob Klajn, was in Groß-Rosen, where a prisoner threw a shoe at his head and killed him on the spot. Efraim Wajnryb, a doctor, husband of Jadzia Klajn, died as a soldier in the Polish military when the Germans invaded Poland. Jadzia was taken to Auschwitz (one of her daughters lives in Israel). Dawid Bart, an official in the office, was also sent to Auschwitz.
When the Germans entered Będzin, they sealed off the synagogue street and other streets and set fire to everything, together with the inhabitants. The synagogue, in which generations of Jews had prayed, the jewel of the community, was ruined. The orphans' Home, where children from Dąbrowa were taken care of too, was, with the help of the Christian inhabitants, also set on fire, together with the orphans.
In this way the multi-branched family Klajn was cut down, together with all the
Jews from Dąbrowa Górnicza. The machines and hammers are still
banging on Szopena. People are busily using them, people who did not spend a
drop of sweat in building them. Here the well-known law is in effect: you can
kill and also take possession; you can have your cake and eat it too.
Memories about the fate of townspeople
My Dąbrowa friend Berysz, a Judenältester [Jewish elder]
in Klettendorf Camp, was perhaps the only Judenältester who understood
that we need to help the unfortunate. He sacrificed himself to help the
Dąbrowa people who were thrown into his camp. He secretly supported them
with food, in order that they would have the strength to work and thus
eliminate a reason for being sent away. This is how he behaved until the camp
was dissolved and later incorporated into Groß-Rosen. In the new camp, he
introduced himself as Judenältester from Klettendorf Camp.
For this he was beaten and suffered the same prisoner status as all the other Jews there.
I was in Klettendorf three days. As I was from Dąbrowa, perhaps I would have been fated to be good, but I left and found my brother Lejb-Wolf.
While running after the Germans marched into Poland, on the way from Wolbrom Miechów, I met Jecheskel Kożuch of the Freiheit [Communist Yiddish newspaper], brother of Herszl Kożuch, as a Polish soldier, running barefoot after a military auto.
I saw the last walk of Ferens, ritual slaughterer, Jakob Josef Liberman, a ritual slaughterer, with their families, the family Jaskorowicz, three sisters Korenfeld, and the family Krempl. Icze Prezerowicz escaped from the camp, and he was caught and shot.
In Camp at the Sportschule [sports school], by 3:00 a.m. they already took us out of the barracks, in the worst cold and rains, to stand ready for the roll call, which took place at 6:00 a.m. We couldn't stand it; one person held on to the next. When the other two dropped from exhaustion and fell in the mud, they remained there until the morning, and then they were sent to Auschwitz. The rest marched to work indifferently.
Aron Balicki found a paper cement bag and he put it on his freezing body and argued that it warmed him. The others in his row did not have this luck.
The sister of Dr. Efraim Wajnryb came from Palestine in 1939 with her only son. He was sent to Auschwitz. The mother was in the camp, and after the war she had the privilege to return to Israel, back to her husband.
Mosze Rozencwajg was shot after somebody betrayed him with information that he was selling meat.
Juda Milchman was in Russia, lasted the war, and died in Reichenbach on his way home. Frania Klajn survived the world war but died just when she could have lived a little.
Being in the camp, I became apathetic and indifferent to everything. I was resigned to my life, and did not find anything appealing, so I decided at least to dedicate whatever time I had left to live in helping others.
I went into the supply room, cut up saddles and other goods, and from the leather and fur made shoes for the unlucky victims. I took water from the kitchen and stole potatoes for the hungry. I was sentenced to death. I do not know why they did not carry through the sentence. I befriended a woman, a camp leader of 500 Russian women, and also from her I received food.
I had the luck to save a woman from Sosnowiec by the name of Tola Launer. She was put on the black list to be sent to Auschwitz. She suffered severely from a disease. Because she did not receive enough nourishment for her vital strength, she became completely crooked, and practically crawled around on all fours. I made her warm fur shoes and warm underwear, gave her food secretly; Tola Launer was practically reborn anew. She straightened up, became human in appearance, and was crossed off the black list. Today Tola Launer is in Katowice.
In Germany I met with Masza Fajerman, a member of the leftist Poali-Zion. Her child was murdered in the war. Her husband, in Paris after the war, left for Poland and Germany searching for his wife. In Germany he found out that his wife was alive. When he went to her, he found her encumbered with a sick man. She did not want to return to her husband, answering, that she could not forsake a sick man and leave him alone. He went back to Paris without his wife and later to America.
(Elaborated by Juda Londner)
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