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[Page 376]

The 1st of September 1939,
the worst day in my life

by Isser Slomnicki

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld

The first of September 1939 is a date that injured me with a wound that will never heal. It will accompany me to my last day. I remember the entrance of Hitler's soldiers with their arrogant, hobnailed boots into our city of Dąbrowa Górnicza, and I was still a young man who had yet to savor the taste of life. They came to us at great haste since we were located not far from the German border.

Their first act was to make us wear a yellow armband with a Star of David on our left arm and they termed this a “mark of disgrace”. They confiscated Jewish shops and appointed commissars to run Jewish businesses. In the plant belonging to my uncle Abram-Jakob Klajn, may the Lord revenge his blood, they appointed a cruel commissar to run the plant. He immediately fired all the Jewish workers who had invested their funds and energy into the building of the factory.

The first victim in our family was my uncle Szmuel Klajn, may the Lord revenge his blood, the younger brother of Abram the engineer. One Friday, in February 1941, the Gestapo appeared his house, claiming, as it were, that he had been reading underground newspapers and they arrested him. Showing proof that this claim was false did not help him. He was taken to Myslowice, tortured there and finally taken to Auschwitz. He was murdered and his ashes and blood stained clothes were sent in a parcel to his wife.

Abram Jakob Klajn - dab376.jpg [33 KB]

Abram Jakob Klajn
The engineer of the Klajn brother's factory
at an exhibition in Poznan

At the end of 1941 there were additional victims in our family: Bilski, Pitman and Bartek. Bilski, who was an engineer by profession, was the son-in-law of Abram-Jakob, the factory manager, was married to his daughter Genia. We all lived together in a house on Lukasinskiego Street and we heard how the Gestapo came to arrest him. Pitman was the store-man and Bartek was the chief bookkeeper. All the efforts made by the family to release him were to avail. They were severely tortured, cruelly beaten, transferred to various camps and they finally murdered them and their ashes were sent to their families, in order to further torture the bereaved and distressed families.

When my uncles, Abram-Jakob and Wolf, saw the bereavement passing through our family, they decided to dispose of the factory that they had built with the sweat of their brows, and abandon it to Hitler's thieves. Engineer Abram-Jakob went to live with his daughter Genia and found work as a foreman in a private workshop and his brother, Wolf, worked as a manager and work instructor for young boys in the metalworking profession. As I was told, he stayed in the ghetto till it was liquidated, and later went through hell in Auschwitz, but stayed alive thanks to his expertise in the metalworking profession. I met him in Germany after the war in the city of Lindsborg. He went to live in Israel in 1953 and he tried, once again, to start a factory but his strength and deserted him and he passed away.

Engineer Abram-Jakob hid out in a Christian home in the region. He was informed on and was murdered in the street. I received this information from acquaintances, in the work camp in Gliwice, who were in contact with Christian citizens, who supplied us with all the news of what was happening at home.

My father, Berysz of blessed memory, worked as a foreman in the steel wire painting section in the Klajn brother's factory. He worked there till the ghetto was liquidated, and more than once they wanted to remove him from the factory but they couldn't find someone with his standard of professionalism to take his place.

In the meantime, the Nazis continued their unrestrained frenzy in Dąbrowa. They carried out searches and hunts after young Jews in the streets. They starved, beat and tortured those that they found and told their families that they were being sent to labor camps for six weeks only. However, in the end they were murdered. How did they entice our parents with deceptions! How did they put our alertness to sleep! Why couldn't we see that they were planning to mercilessly destroy us!

[Page 377]

My older brother, Mosze, may the Lord revenge his blood, returned home broken and depressed from the labor camp, but he was immediately captured and was sent to the Kittlitz Gröditz, and there was cruelly murdered by a Kapo[1]. By chance, my cousin was there and witnessed this murder but could do nothing to save him.

We became the cheapest labor force of the Germans. They could weaken our strength to the state of helplessness. What didn't they use us for: paving roads, construction, arms factories, feeding us with a little weak soup and thus we worked, and those showing signs of weakness were sent to Auschwitz to be killed.

By the mass grave - dab377.jpg [26 KB]

Next to a mass grave (Mietek Krajcer is standing)

Our will to live was so strong that we fell for any deception or promise that we wouldn't be set to a labor camp, but this didn't help; labor camps sprang up and labor camps were destroyed, those that worked for the war effort paid a monthly tax that was called a “special tax”, that gave them the deception of security, but when the production output decreased they were sent to extermination camps.

In 1941 we were separated from the Christian population, as pariahs, so that they could persecute us more vigorously. Nazi Germany did everything so that there would many ways to depress and humiliate us, to conceal and erase any characteristics of humanity created in God's image. We could only walk in streets meant for Jews, we were not allowed to come in contact with Christians or walk in the main streets. Libel followed libel. Those caught “transgressing” trading in food, or more correctly, in coffee or a loaf of bread – were arrested immediately and sent to extermination camps.

In the summer of 1942, in the month of August, the Nazis assembled all the Jews from the region of Sosnowiec, Będzin, Dąbrowa and nearby towns, in special locations, in order to stamp their identity cards. The Jews of Dąbrowa were assembled next to the kehila [Jewish community] building, in a lot on Polna Street. Representatives of the kehila ordered all those who had turned up to wear festive clothing and wear the little jewelry that they still had: “This is only to report to have identity cards stamped” – the kehila leaders claimed.

It was a bitter and impetuous day, an act of deception only the devil could invent against helpless people, lacking even the minimum means of defending themselves: the Nazis appeared, in violent anger, with the cruelty of savages, created two lines of people, those to be deported and those to be released. The windows of heaven opened and heavy rain began pouring down to the ground, the people were soaked, and the devil sent the cream of the adults of the community to be exterminated. They still left the youth under 30 years of age alone, since the Nazis still needed the manpower.

When our turn came, all the family stood together. My father, of blessed memory, showed them a security certificate with many stamps. They were shocked to see a high-ranking Jewish workingman and they didn't believe that there were these types amongst us, though Jewish Dąbrowa was blessed with people like this. Luckily, we were released. During this same “selection”, the wife of Abram Klajn was taken but was released through the intervention of the kehila, since at that time, Abram-Jakob worked in the kehila. The Najszteter family was also taken in this deportation, the sister of the manager and his brother-in-law. The deportees were loaded on trucks, wearing their festive clothes, cramped so badly that it was difficult to breath, the children and the babies were thrown in as if they were inanimate objects and they were killed in their parents' arms. Thus the death convoy moved off, watched by the remnant.

Thanks to my father who was a foremen and an expert in his profession, I remained working with him for some months. On my way to work, I heard weeping coming from the orphaned homes and there was no consolation, the Nazis were not satisfied with these deportations and asked the kehila for more groups to be deported.

At the beginning of 1943 the ghetto was closed, and on the 6th of March 1943 all the employees were commanded to report. On Friday an order came and the following day, Saturday, we all reported. I was also taken. We were taken to Sosnowiec and there we worked in a building camp. My younger brother worked in a kehila workshop and my brother-in-law, Dimansztajn, was employed in a steel wire factory for a German commissar.

[Page 378]

All of us were taken to the work camps in Sosnowiec. The camp was dismantled by order of the Nazi, Lindner, and we were transferred to Gliwice. Luckily, I found a German craftsman who still had a spark of compassion in him and he employed me in his plant, in exchange he took care of supplying me with news from home and told me that my father was still working in the steel wire factory. When the ghetto was destroyed the small remnant of Jews in Dąbrowa was also destroyed.

In Gliwice, I was together with Mr. Zilberszac who is now in Israel, Natan Strzegowski, Przerowicz and Lech Luksenburg. We stayed in the camp till the 17th of January 1945 until we were released by the Russian army that was progressing westward and had conquered regions nearby Krakow and Auschwitz.

The Auschwitz camp was vacated of people, the Germans dragged us from camp to camp, starved us but they needed us as manpower to be exploited till the very end, and luckily they were not given the opportunity to do this and their plans were not carried out. On the 25th of April 1945 I was released in Germany, in Immendingen Barden. In the summer of 1947, I reached Israel.

The date of the 1st of September 1939 on which the Holocaust of European Jewry began and the annihilation of my parents home, in particular, will be etched on my heart. I will continue to remember and remind of the evil carried out by the German Nazis.


  1. Although the origin of the term is not fully known, the word kapo probably came from the Latin capo, meaning “head.” It was probably introduced into Dachau by Italian workers in the 1930s. During World War II, in popular language, kapo became a generic term for all inmate (prisoner) functionaries. return

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