Kutners in the Second World War
by Efraim WAJKSELFISZ, Tel Aviv
Translated from Yiddish by Thia Persoff
Many of the Kutner Jewish youths were drafted, and participated in the various fronts during the Second World War against the Nazi enemy. This was a blitz war. The German army conquered cities and countries one after the other, and, in the first days already, stood at the gates of Poland's capital Warsaw. Even then, the Jews envisioned the full significance of the Nazi invasion, and what it brought with it for the Jews of Poland in the cities and towns.
Kutno, situated on the railroad junction that connects east and west Poland, was useful as an important target for the invading Nazis. They bombed Kutno's train station in the first days of the war, and in that bombing fell the first casualties of Kutno.
Many Kutners served in the army unit that fought near the town of Łowicz and the Bzura River. The Germans assaulted
this town fiercely and bombed it day and night. The Polish army was forced to retreat from the German tanks, and in the battle the Kutners died a heroic death: Pinchas Lajchman, Majer Fast, Abraham Stuczynski, Abraham Sztift, Buki, Lipski, and Bibergal.
In the defence of Warsaw, the capital, many of the young Kutners were distinguished by their heroism. They knew and understood well the meaning of the German invasion for the Jewish masses, and fought like lions to defend the Polish capital. However, it is well-known that Warsaw's fate was a bitter one, and much bitterer was that of Warsaw's Jews, who, a few years later, were annihilated and destroyed by hunger, plagues, murder, and extermination camps. Only the remnants of Warsaw's Jews raised the flag of revolt against the German murderers, and did not submit like sheep to the slaughter.
However, after the front collapsed and the Germans took control, the Kutners started joining the partisan troops that operated in the forests. Others decided to wander east, towards Russia, looking for sanctuary from the Nazi murderer. Over there they joined the Red Army or troops of partisans that operated in the Russian forests, and later joined the Polish army under the leadership of General Anders, and the Polish army's first division - named after Kościuszko which was organized in the USSR. In the Red Army, too, Kutners were successful in rising up in the Russian army's ladder of officers' cadre, thanks to their exemplary sacrifice and zeal in their war against the annihilators of their people. But some of those Kutners were not lucky to see the Nazi animal's defeat and destruction, because they fell in the battles.
And these are the Kutners who fought on the various fronts against the Nazi enemy:
Jeszayahu Altman fought on the Warsaw front as an officer in the infantry. Today he is a teacher in a Haifa high school.[Page 385]
Dawid Aspirsztajn A graduate of Am HaSefer school, a trainee in HaShomer HaTzair, fought in the Polish army on the Warsaw front as a physician.
Epsztajn was enlisted in the British army and served in the Jewish Brigade that fought in Italy and Germany.
Mendel Erdberg A Beitar trainee. Arrived in Israel through illegal immigration. Enlisted in the British army, and was taken prisoner in the battle of Greece in 1941. After the war, he took part in the defence of Tel-Aviv, and the War of Independence.
Bibergal was born in 1912. At the start of the war, he was recruited to the army, and took part on the front on the Bzura River, where he died a hero's death.
Abraham Benet Born in 1931. Was a Beitar trainee, and one of the towns' young artists. He fell during the defence of Kutno.
Menasze Grinbaum Born in 1900. Fought on the Warsaw front, was mortally wounded, and died in hospital.
Fiszel Grinbaum Born in 1900. Fought on the Łowicz and the Warsaw fronts. Was taken prisoner-of-war by the Germans, He escaped and returned to Kutno. Later he was killed in Chelmno with the rest of his congregation.
Tuwia Hirszberg Born in 1917. A Beitar trainee. Was killed with Abraham Benet during the bombardment of Kutno at the start of the war.
Efraim Wajkselfisz son of Mosze, a Beitar trainee. Was recruited to the defence of Warsaw. Escaped to Russia and enlisted in the Red Army where he fought with the rank of officer, and was sent as an officer to organize the first division of Anders' Army. He was badly wounded in the fighting in Lenino, on the Belarus front. After the liberation, he was appointed by the Polish army to be the military governor of Lublin. There he organized the surviving Jewish youth refugees, and after he met the soldiers of the Jewish fighting unit, he organized the escape [of Jewish refugees] in Poland Austria Italy.
Szmuel Wajkselfisz Born on the 9th of Av, 1919 in the town of Kutno, to a distinguished family of his father Reb Israel Mosze and his mother Tamar. In his youth, he studied at the Am HaSefer high school, followed by studying in Lodz's Broda high school. He was active in Beitar from early youth.
The start of the war finds him and his younger brother Efraim, on their way to Israel. However, just as they arrived at Zalishchyky, on the Rumanian border, they were forced to return to Warsaw. After a short time, he left with a group of friends from Beitar towards Russia. It was quite hard adjusting to the regimented way of life in Russia, but in spite of it, he excelled in his job as an agro-technician on a soviet farm, and even received a prize for his work. After the German attack on the USSR, he volunteered to the Red Army and fought in the battle of Stalingrad
with the rank of an officer. As an officer in the unit, S. Wajkselfisz defended a tractor factory and freed the approach to the Volga river.
As an officer in the Red Army, he took part in the liberation of Poland, and freed town after town, witnessing the destruction, ruins, and death spread by the Nazi animals during their rule. In 1945, he was discharged from the Red Army, and as a Polish citizen returned to Poland where he met his only surviving brother the only one who remained of his family wounded and serving as an officer in the Polish security services. Face to face with the great cemetery that was Poland, where all the members of his family had perished, as had all of Jewry, his decision was finalized that, as a Jew with national identity, he no longer had a place in that accursed country. He made his mind up to immigrate to Israel. In spite of all the difficulties, Szmuel crossed borders and arrived in Austria. There he organized groups of Beitar and preached them the doctrine of Jabotinsky Teach your children how to shoot. After a skirmish with Nazis, where he let them feel his strong arm, Szmuel crossed the Italian border illegally and from there arrived in Cyprus. In the refugees' camps, too, he did not forget Jabotinsky's doctrine, and organized defence troops. His men dug a tunnel and escaped from the refugee camp. That group arrived in Israel at the start of the Independence War, and was immediately attached to the battalion #5 of the Palmach. Again, Szmuel was fighting on the front, but this time it was the front of Jerusalem. In spite of the fact that he had the rank of an officer, no one knew it, so he went to an officer's training course and passed it. Even in the Israel Defence Army, he swiftly achieved the rank of a senior officer. After the Sinai operation, he was promoted to the rank of Major. He still serves in the IDF.
Pinchas (Pawel) HERSZBERG A Partisan and Activist in the Breicha
He was born in Kutno in 1921. A graduate of Am HaSefer school and the Hebrew high school in Włocławek. In 1939, he escaped to Belarus where he taught in Baranowicze district. When the Germans entered in 1941, he escaped to the forest and was one of the first organizers of the partisan movement in the Naliboki forests. As a section commander, he took part in mining trains, blowing up bridges, sabotaging communication ways, and eliminating German headquarters in the area's forests.
Since the beginning of 1944, he was the editor of an underground bulletin, which was mimeographed and distributed among all the partisan brigades in the area, and the villagers. In June of 1944, the partisan forces in the Naliboki forests joined with the Red Army's communication unit, and immediately he volunteered to the regular army. He took part in the battles, and with a rank of major, he arrived with the Red Army at the entrance of the town of Sokoly, where he was seriously wounded in both legs.
With the repatriation, he returned to Poland and devoted two years to work with Aliyat HaNoar. He headed the children's home in Lodz, through which hundreds of children out of monasteries, Polish homes, and the streets, had passed on their way to Israel.
Hundreds of his trainees are living today in Israel's kibbutzim, towns, and cities. With the last group of children, he arrived in France and from there by the ship Nachshon HaKastel to Cyprus. During the first cease-fire, he arrived in Israel where he was awarded with the Ot HaHagana for his work in the Breicha and the youth immigration to Israel. Since the day of his arrival in 1948 until now, he is serving as one of the security system's top officers.
Abba Warszawczyk a Beitar trainee, as an Israeli citizen had volunteered to the British army and was captured by the Germans in the battle for Greece. Today he lives in the USA.[Page 386]
Jehuda Mosze Widawski took part in the defence of Warsaw. Together with his battalion, he was captured after Warsaw's surrender. He returned to Kutno and his fate was the same as all the members of his people.
Zalman Zumer An activist in the Kutno trade union. Was recruited into the Polish army when in the USSR, took place in the battles, and was wounded. After the liberation, he immigrated to the USA. He visited Israel.
Chaim Zakszewski A member of the Communist party. Was recruited to the Polish army and was promoted to an officer. He fell during a battle in 1942.
Jeszayahu Taub A captain in the Polish army was captured by the Germans and was imprisoned up to the end of the war. After the liberation, he immigrated to Israel, and today he is a teacher in a high school.
Eliezer Tiger a trainee of Beitar. He was conscripted into the Polish army in Russia, and took part in the conquest of Warsaw. Now he lives in the USA.
Zwi (Hirsz) Kohn a trainee of Beitar. He was recruited into General Anders' Army in Russia, where he attained the rank of captain. He took part in the conquest of Berlin. Today he lives in the USA.
Pinchas Lajchman fell near Bzura.
Szmuel ben Jakob Falc was born in 1920 in Kutno. First, he studied in the high school there, and then in the high school in Włocławek. Since his youth, he was a member of the Maccabi organization, and one of its trainers in Kutno. He was wounded on the Warsaw front, and was moved to a hospital by the Germans. After returning to Kutno, he escaped to Russia and reached Lemberg. In Russia he was recruited to General Anders' Army, where he was attached to the air force and was transferred to England. He took part in the English bombing of the German cities until he was captured by the Germans in 1944.
After the end of the war, he received a grant from the British government, and returned there for extended studies. At the start of the Israel's independence war, he immigrated so that he could take a part in it. He was recruited to the budding Israeli air force.
Lipski fell, while in the Polish army, by the Bzura river.
Gecel Moszkowicz was recruited to the Polish army, and took part in the battles. He attained the rank of lieutenant.
Abraham Stuczynski fell in the battle for the town of Łowicz.
Majer Fast took part in a bayonet battle near Łowicz, and fell.
Fiszel Frizler took part in the battle on Warsaw. After he was taken prisoner by the Germans, he escaped to Russia. There he joined the Red Army and fought in the Ukrainian front. He fell in the battle for Kiev.
Herman Celemenski was recruited in Russia to the Polish army. He took part in the battle for the liberation of Warsaw. Now he lives in Canada.
Dawid Pakulski was born in Kutno in 1915, and was a trainee of the HaNoar HaTziyoni youth movement. He fought in the Red Army and was severely wounded in 1945 at the Koenigsberg front. He immigrated to Israel in 1957, and passed away in 1963.
Michael Rasz was a trainee of the HaShomer HaTzair youth movement. When in Russia he was recruited to the Polish army, and fell in the battle for the Vistula River in 1944.
Zwi Klinberg was recruited to the Cavalry Force at the start of the Second World War, and took part in the battle near the city of Poznan. He fell defending the capital city Warsaw.
Icchak Kenig When in Russia, he was recruited to the Polish army. He took part in various battles, and was liberated in 1945. Now he lives in the USA.
Abraham Sztift Was recruited at the start of the World War. He fell, with Lipski, at the battle near the city of Łowicz.
Zalman Kirsztajn was recruited in 1939, and fell in the battle for the town of Żychlin.
Freunt was recruited to the Polish army of General Anders, and fought on the Italian front.
Szpira was recruited to the Polish army of General Anders, and fought on the Italian front.
Michrowski was a Beitar trainee. He arrived in Israel via the illegal immigration. As an Israeli, he enlisted in the British army. As a music composer, he, with his band, appeared on the various fronts to encourage the soldiers. He is well known as a composer in Israel and the world. He lives in the USA now.
Nachman Falc was a Beitar trainee in Israel and a member of the Irgun Tzvai Leumi (Etzel) party. Although under age, he enlisted in the British army, and fought with his unit under the Israeli flag. His unit was recognized as an Israeli unit under Israel's flag. He was severely wounded on the Italian front, and after much suffering and long medical treatment, he walked with crutches. When he returned to Israel,
presented himself at the Etzel headquarters and became one of its trainers. He took part in many underground skirmishes in spite of his disability. He fell during a skirmish on the 11th of Iyar when he went with a group of young men on a military attack, and did not return to the base. Their fate and where they fell is unknown until today.Translator's footnotes
Jakob Fernbach took part in the Second World War as a soldier in the Jewish Brigade fighting in Italy.
Jakob Szwarc fought on the Warsaw front. Was a prisoner of war but managed to escape from captivity. He was active in Aliya B during 1946 and 1947.
Jehoszua Fuks Was recruited in 1939 to the infantry of the Polish army. He took part in the battle near Kutno-Łowicz. Was a prisoner of war, but was caught when he tried to escape and was sent to the ghetto, where he was killed with his entire townspeople.
Buki A trainee of Beitar. He was recruited to the army at the start of the war, and died a hero's death in a gun battle near the Bzura River.
Wolf Nosal was recruited to the army at the start of the war, and fell in the battle near Sochaczew, in the Warsaw district.
Zalmanik Fast was recruited in Russia to the Polish army of General Anders.
Izrael Fast was recruited in Russia to the army of General Anders.
by Zyskind BIBERGAL, New York
Translated from Yiddish by Shoulamit AuvéSzlajfer
The month of March 1939 is forever etched in our memory: Chamberlain's accommodations; the real danger of the attacks of Hitlerism; Poland mobilizes the military reserve.
Silently, with hidden sadness, the Polish spring blossomed in 1939. As the sunny days shone, a kind of lownoise gloom hung in the air. People walked with their heads bowed, peeked around furtively, whispered, war or peace was the main topic of all conversations. Discreetly, day after day, the hour of confrontations and rivalries approached.
With the mobilization of the Polish army, our Jewish youth left Kutno. The 37th Infantry Regiment of the Polish Army was stationed in Kutno. With young people mobilized from the surroundings, a second group of the 37th regiment reservists was formed, which was stationed in Wagrowiec, not far from the German border.
As for our family, the eldest brother, Lajb has been enlisted. He was mobilized in the 37th regiment, in Wagrowiec. During the last summer months of 1939 our family received no news. After the start of the war, in September 1939, when the country was paralyzed,
the roads broken up, it was learned that the 37th Regiment of Wagrowiec had left the fortress and, by circuitous roads, had gone to defend Warsaw, which still opposed a strong resistance. On September 21, 1939, a young Pole whom we knew informed us that my brother had fallen in a village near Łowicz, not far from the plain. I did not pass the sad news on to my parents. I told myself that this terrible news would shatter the life of the family. But the Pole did not agree to remain silent. I will not have a clear conscience, he said. I cannot keep such a terrible secret for myself. These young heroes who have been mowed down, including your brother, must be given a decent grave. We cannot allow dogs or crows to cut up their bodies.
The Christian came to our house, to the house, and brought the sad news to my parents. The next morning, my parents, I and two other families drove to a location that was directed to us. One of the families was the Lipskis, who at that time lost their only son, the other family was the Osowskis, who also lost a son at that time.
On the road from Kutno to Łowicz, camps of victorious German soldiers were already stretched out. Armored vehicles, tanks, motorcycles and trucks flooded the roads of Poland.
We arrived at the place indicated, not far from the town of Łowicz. The local sołtys gave us a metal plate with my brother's name on it, and the Lipskis and Osowskis also received small metal plates with the names of their sons. Everything was organized, with an inventory of fallen soldiers. In addition, various items owned by fallen soldiers were listed. The objects were handed over to the parents of the deceased, who came to pay a last tribute to their children.
There I received a photo of Abraham Sztift, who also fell in that battle. His parents had not yet heard of his loss.
This is where they are!, said the sołtys pointing to a large pit. Several hundred soldiers…
Under a grove they lay like brothers in the pit.
They fought like lions, said the sołtys sadly. None of them fled. All stayed to the last one. The Germans have evacuated their dead from the battlefield. The Germans lost many more soldiers in this battle. They fought for two days and three nights. On the last morning, as our soldiers were withdrawing from the fight, gunfire could still be heard in the surrounding fields. It was the last Polish soldiers who defended themselves. They did not abandon their fighting brothers, going together in battle until the end. The Germans used tanks, artillery and, in the end, planes. They were talking through microphones, carrying white flags, waving and shouting that Poland had already fallen, your fight no longer makes sense! Lay down your weapons, submit!
The German propaganda speech was answered with… bullets. The Germans drove the Polish soldiers out of the forest, surrounded them and, with the help of planes, wiped them out to the last. Before the battle ended, the courageous Polish soldiers drove the Germans back from the surrounding Polish fields and forests on several occasions. The Germans, however, brought in reinforcements, literally burning the surrounding forests and forcing the brave Polish soldiers out into the open. This is how the Germans fired at Jewish soldiers in Polish uniforms.
Between burnt forests, surrounded on both sides by a flat clearing, there were forever traces of bloody clashes and battles.
The narrow road that crossed the fields was used by the Polish army to approach Warsaw and help it defend itself. The main roads were occupied by the German enemy.
It was this narrow road that the soldiers of the 37th Regiment had to take. Littered there were lists of various names, broken weapon parts, stolen helmets. The earth was impregnated with the blood of children, who already would not see the light of day, after their short life…
They fell like ears of corn mowed in the early morning, not having been able to feel the softness of the summer rays… Instead of joy, the parents buried in them eternal sorrow… And they, the poor parents, have still
had the privilege of being able to bury their children. Among the mourners in tears, the worst was Lipski's heartbreaking complaint. His face was red as fire, his eyes rolled back, he couldn't even cry anymore and no words could come out of his mouth… He waved his arms around and walked aimlessly…
It was a sunny fall day, a light wind was blowing and shaking the branches of trees in the surrounding woods.
In my memory, I will forever engrave this unforgettable sorrow, but also this feeling of heroic human action and pride…
It was with these feelings that I, precisely at the time, left behind this part of the Polish soil and landscape…
by Jehuda SZTAJN
Annotated by Ch. H. HOFFMAN, Paris
Translated from Yiddish by Shoulamit AuvéSzlajfer
From year 1940 to Liberation, a number of young men and women coming from Kutno, Dąbrowice and Lęcyca, residing in France an other countries, have fought on different fronts against nazi bestiality. Hereafter is a list of these anti-nazi fighters, a list that we know to be less than complete:
Kutners in French Resistance:
GLOWINSKI Eliezer, mobilised in the French Army, he was a member of prisoners' organization and escaped, in a German uniform.
GLOWINSKI Simcha Jehuda, a volunteer in the French Army.
WOLMAN Szlomo, fought as an officer in the Polish Army before Poland was invaded by Germans. During the liberation of Poland by Russians, WOLMAN fought in the Polish Liberation Army. He was wounded near Plock.
ZANDBERG Szlomo, a volunteer in the French Army. He was captured. There are no details on his disappearance (declared dead).
CZOLEK Jozef, a volunteer in the French Army. He was a member of International Resistance Organization.
LAMSKI Jehoszua, went as a volunteer in the French Army (standing, middle on the picture).
FUDALOWICZ Bunem, was a members in the prisoners' organization
FALC Abraham, a volunteer in the French Army, he was deported and disappeared.
PONCZ Berel, a volunteer in the French Army and a partisan.
CELER Izrael, a volunteer in the French Army, he was a member of prisoners' organization.
SZLAJFER Henech, a volunteer in the French Army. After being demobilized, he participated to the Underground Central Committee in Toulouse, Lyon and Grenoble.
SZAPSZEWICZ Gerszon, a volunteer in the the French Army.
SZTAJN Henoch, a volunteer in the French Army (standing, right on the picture).
MINIEWSKI Eliezer, (a grandson of the SZPAJERs from Kutno) volunteered in the colonial section of the French Army in Morrocco. After the armistice of 1940, he came back to France and participated to the Resistance (underground fighters). One of the most active leaders, he was hunt down by the Gestapo. While he was in Lyon for an important military mission, the Germans attempted to arrest him in a train. He jumped from the train but was shot.
The three young men from Dąbrowice:
GLOGOSKI Chagay, fought the battle of Warsaw in the Polish Army, against German bestiality. Later, he was an inmate in ghetto Konstancja from where he was deported.
HOFFMAN Hersz, fought in Polish Army in Lowicz, where he was wounded. Upon exit of the hospital, he went to Russia. His fate is unknown.
CHELMINSKI Zalman, volunteered in the Kościuszko division, which was based in Soviet Union in 1943. Served as an officer in an armoured divison and went on until he reached Berlin.
Young Jews from Lęcyca who fought in the French Army:
SZWANG Szmuel, BENEDIK Max, MOSZKOWICZ Ruze, MOSZKOWICZ Leon, WOJDISLAWSKI Rafael, TROJANOWSKI Eliezer, LISNER, JACHIMOWICZ Abraham, ROZENBERG Max, ZOLNER Jacob (was a prisonner)
In the Resistance: MITELMAN Kajle, SZUREK
(From a Conversation with the VicePresident of the Jewish Combatants' Union in Paris, Bernard Pons, who was honored with the French Légion d'Honneur. Reprinted from the New Press Paris, June 56, 1965. Recorded by H. Baum).
Bernard Pons, ViceChairman of the Association of the Jewish Front Fighters from 19391944, received the title of Chevalier from the Légion d'Honneur Order. This fact has caused great satisfaction among his many combat colleagues.
The Legion of Honor is, as is wellknown, the highest honor bestowed on the French Empire by those who have done great things to develop its material and spiritual values, or for particular heroism in defending the country against the enemy.
Those who really deserve it do not always get the award. And very rarely is it given to working people, especially immigrants. This is not because there is a lack of those who are worthwhile. Others factors affect the outcome, here.
It is therefore a satisfaction that a Jewish folksman received such a high honor, and that for his merits in antiNazi resistance.
In his studio, on the Rue SaintMartin, we chat with our friend Pons. On the wall of his study, which serves to receive clients, we see a portrait of Szalom Asz. I was born, says Bernard, in the same city where he saw the bright light and spent his youth as one of the greatest writers of our generation, and not only among Jews.
We ask him to tell us about the battles in which he took part in the last war and for which he received the Legion of Honor.
I want to remind you first, replied Bernard Pons. that the new press wrote about me 17 years ago. This was in September 1948, on the occasion of the award to me and my French comradeinarms, Lieutenant Launay, of the Croix de Guerre award (War Cross) with a silver star.
We both received it for a combat mission, which we carried out in September 1944.
But let's start from the beginning.
After the Nazi occupation of France, I joined the resistance movement. Since 1943, I have been in the maquis of the Départment of Cher, where we have had a large number of partisan units with about 2,500 men, among them quite a few Jews.
In the same department, at that time, stationed
a German division, led by General Elster with 18 thousand men.
For months, we have carried out numerous operations and acts of sabotage against the units of this division: mainly in the area of Bourges.
After the landing of the Allies in Normandy, we further intensified our action. At the beginning of September 1944, our group seized an ambulance of the German Red Cross, which was filled with weapons.
During questioning, the German mayor, who led the ambulance, admitted that the morale of the German division was poor.
The commander of our partisan divisions, Colonel Aubert, acquainted himself with the statements and decided to undertake a bold deterrent maneuver against the German division. Namely, he edited a letter to the head of the division with the request that he lay down his arms.
Immediately the dramatic question arose: who should deliver this letter to the addressee? Our colonel selected the French Launay and me.
With this letter, we are off to the German positions. Upon finding the first German patrol, we approached them waving a white flag and demanded to be presented to the German Commandant of the sector.
After various checks, we were led with blindfolds to the Nazi DivisionCommander, General Elster. In the first moment, when he read the letter with the demand of his capitulation, he fell into a terrible rage: We have not lost this war he resented. Immediately afterwards he shouted: Shoot on the spot!.
At this fateful moment for both of us, I called out: We have seized an ambulance from your Red Cross this morning, filled with weapons. In case we should be shot, the same fate awaits the German prisoners.
The words seemed to work like a cold shower on a torn Nazi head. He ordered us to be taken back to the place where we had made contact with the German patrol.
A few days later, the general capitulated.
That's the truly legendary story of the Jewish tailor of Kutno, who with his coldbloodedness contributed to the fact that 18 thousand Hitler soldiers should surrender without a single shot.
What do you think about it all today? I asked.
I'm sure I'm reminded of the past and especially of the fact that fate wanted the Polish Jew to force a Nazi youth to lay down his arms. But my persona is not important here. The main thing is that by awarding me the Legion of Honor, I think it recognizes as also stated by the supreme leader of the antiHitler coalition that the significant part of the Jews from all walks of life in the resistance movement has made an important contribution to the dismantling of the German war machine.
Much more needs to be written about this part.
It is necessary, in my opinion, to tell especially to the younger generation, not only the heroic deeds of the leaders, but also of the nameless people who fought in the partisan groups. Each of them was ready without hesitation to consciously surrender his life in the fight against the Nazis, by helping rescue comradesinarms and not surrendering anyone when falling into the hands of the enemy. Same for the people of the regions where we operated, giving so much help, attention and love.
by Moshe Pinchas SZPIRO, London
Dedicated to the holy memory of my parents, sisters and brothers, who perished on Kiddush HaShem in the gas chambers and ghettos.
Who could have imagined on September 1, 1939, when the first bombs had fallen on Kutno, that Holocaust and destruction would strike at Polish Jewry? And who could have imagined that, over the course of the six years of war, we, the Jews of Kutno, will be able to make such a great difference across Poland, Russia, Persia, Palestine, Egypt, Africa, and North America? Canada and England? I believe that a similar war-fate befell not only me but also other fellow Kutners, who did not make it to the liberation. The following lines should also be a modest dedication on the unknown tombstones and unknown tombs of these martyrs.
The deadly attacks on Kutno lasted for two weeks - until the Germans occupied the city. Just as I was lying in the basement during the bombing, so people were afraid to show up on the street when the killers were already in Kutno. They did, however, have enough means to gather all the Jews in one place, each to assign a number and divide into different working groups. I and some other Jews were required for employment in the Gestapo.
It was raining heavily that day. They ordered us to lick the stairs with our tongues and clean them of the mud Before we could finish the job, we hear the barking of a dog, which had
wandered in our yard. A Gestapo officer drew his revolver and ordered us to apprehend the dog. A race after the animal started. At last, it fell into our hands. The sadist pushed the dog into a sack, which he tied and beat him with a stick, with all his might. The groaning of the beaten and tortured dog could have moved a rock but not the petrified heart of the Gestapo. Suddenly, the dog became silent. The German commands to untie the sack. We execute his order and the dog got out of the gap and started running. The sadist became beyond angry. He yelled at us "leprous Juden" and orders us again to catch the dog. He's again inside the tied bag, and the sticks again beating him now there is no doubt that the dog is dead. Again, an order: take out the corpse, put it in a box, dig out a grave, bury it, erect a tombstone All this we carried out according to his commands, has us lined up in straight rows and required to play music with our mouth, a kind of mourning-march over the dog's death. Over the open grave, each of us had to say a few words, in the style, that "the dirty Jews caused the war", that Churchill is a Jew and Roosevelt is a Jew too. It was already night when we returned from the tomb. The Gestapo officer ordered us to go to sleep in the stable, together with the horses.
We were hungry and wet, tired and depressed. In such a situation, we could not sleep. It started to rain again. I proposed to flee from the stable, which was certainly not guarded. Once we were convinced that there was no guard around and, helping each other, we managed to escape, jumping over the fence.
I'm off to my parents. In their eyes, I looked like coming from the other world. They did not believe that I was still alive.
That same night, the Germans set fire to the Kutno synagogue and forced the Jews out of their homes, to put out the fire. When we extinguished the fire, the Germans started firing at us. When I returned, I told my parents that I had to leave for Russia, that I did not want to live with the Nazis. My parents did not like the prospect. They did not want to leave me alone in such a dangerous way and they also did not want to stay in the open during those difficult days. But they knew that the Germans were catching young people at work and they had no choice but to say goodbye and, together with some colleagues, we were allowed to go to Warsaw. From there, to the Russian border and we managed to enter Bialystok. There, we found some young Kutners dwelling together, who arranged to live more or less like before.
When the Germans occupied France in the summer of 1940, the Russians began deporting Polish refugees from western Ukraine and western Belarus. One day I found myself in a well-guarded packed wagon, which was taking prisoners to remote Siberia.
I am now in a Soviet labor camp, along with criminals, who have previously been convicted by courts. Very little food is available, for the difficult forced labor. The mortality rate is high and the mood oppressed and depressed. Cutting trees in huge forests, during severe thunderstorms and snowstorms, led to work guarded by dogs and the little food that was only given at 8pm, after returning from work most of the inmates rushed to desperate steps. I was in camp for 14 months, never undressing to sleep, because I was afraid that they would take away my clothes.
I looked like a skeleton hat and bone. Finally, the camp doctor decided to send me to the hospital. This saved me from certain death.
Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the Polish citizens were amnestied from the camps and prisons. I went right away in the Soviet army and was assigned to a unit that was fighting behind Moscow. During a 40-degree frost, the Russians fought like lions and did not allow the Germans to occupy the capital.
One day, my captain ordered me to transport a German prisoner of war to the Urals. I saw the "invincible" German soldiers in all their pity and downfall. They died in transit from starvation and cold. They could not awaken any mercy in me.
After the rise of the Polish army (under General Anders) in Russia, in 1942, I mobilized there. Later, the army left Soviet territory and moved to Persia. Only then did my many travels and wandering begin.
From Persia our unit was sent to India, from India to Saudi Arabia, then to Egypt. After the Suez Canal, we arrived in the Sinai Desert, and from there to Eretz Israel, where I had the privilege of stay for six weeks. I have kissed the earth of the land, and have been amazed at all that my eyes have seen.
I also had to leave the land of Israel this time for some countries of the Middle East. During several months I was on the front. Until I got a call to move to England, where there was a Polish division.
Before I arrived in London, I had to transport German prisoners of war (from Rommel Corps) to Madagascar. I spent several days there. I later went to Cape Town, in South-Africa. The Jews there welcomed me very warmly. From Cape Town I arrived again in North Africa. All for military missions. From here, I was sent to Boston, in the United States. Then I moved to New York, where the Jews showed a lot of interest in the fate of Polish Jewry. I didn't stay for long in the great American city.
My Polish captain had to pack up again going to Canada. From there, by ship to Halifax and later Liverpool.
In 1943, I arrived in Scotland, where a Polish army was being formed. However, the antisemitism was so great and so outspoken that the Jews in the army suffered greatly. The common soldiers, the non-commissioned officers and officers, demonstrated step by step their hatred of the Jews. When my corporal expressed insult to the Jewish religion, I complained about him to a high-ranking officer. As a result, I was arrested for two months for incitement against the Polish army. Here my patience ran out and I organized all the Jews in our department to flee from the antisemites.
250 Jews then abandoned the Polish army and we left for London and were asked to join the British army. Having suffered enough from the Germans and the Russians, we did do not want now to endure the insults of the antisemitic Poles.
In 1944, when the second front opened, I was in the British Army. I was required to join the Desant Army in Normandy. I became very ill and was hospitalized for several months. I was so weakened that the English doctors discharged me completely from military service.
At the beginning of 1945 I returned to London. I helped organize a Jewish theater there. We have staged serious plays. But the youth had no understanding of a Jewish theater. As a general rule, Jewish-social life in England was very backward.
At the end of my memoirs, I would like to mention a few Kutners, with whom I managed to meet on my wandering ways. As far as I know, Eliyahu Braun was drowned in Russia, during work. Also, Eli Lifszic was in Russia. Berel Terzmil returned to Poland from Russia and I know from a letter that he required to go to Israel.
And now some biographical dates and facts about me and my extended family, Kutner residents for generations, who perished on Kiddush-HaShem, as well as some memories of the city.
I was born in Kutno, on the 14th of August 1914. My father's name was Aaron-Henech, my mother Chaja-Sarah. We were five children: Zyse-Mordechai, Israel-Yehoshua, Yehuda-Lajb, Golda-Raca and me (Moshe-Pinchas).
The Szpiro family has for generations held the office of shochet for the Trunk Rabbis of Kutno. At the time of Rabbi Yehoshua Kutner ztzl, my great-grandfather Mr. Zysze-Mordechai was a shochet. Rabbi Yehoshiele's son was named Moshe-Pinchas and the son of Moshe-Pinchas was Rabbi Yitzchak Yehuda Trunk. My grandfather, Mr. Eliyahu, was a shochet under the son and my uncle, R' Yitzchak Meir, was a shochet under the grandson of Rabbi Yehoshua Kutner. My father was also a shochet for a while. Subsequently, he began to trade in leather, also having a shoe business. For a long time, we lived on Zamenhof St 36, near the old market. Lately on Królewska St 4. My father, as well as all of our family, were devout chassidim.
In Kutno, there was a beautiful Jewish life. The city produced great rabbis, cantors, writers, musicians, scholars, painters, and thinkers. The brilliance of Jewish culture and knowledge was ingrained in our holy city.
For Passover, the community provided the poor Jews with matzah, wine, and whatever they needed. In winter, they distributed coal to those in need. The community also maintained the slaughterhouse, the mikveh, the yeshivot, the cheders, the Beit Midrash and the Great Synagogue.
On a hill, there was this very old cemetery, with old tombstones from hundreds of years ago. Next to it was the second cemetery. There was also the ohel where Jews used to throw in small notes. There laid Yehoshua Kutner, his son and grandson. The German barbarians destroyed both cemeteries, leaving no sign of the holy shrine. They also burned the synagogue.
Kutno still hails from Napoleon's time when he visited the city, on his way back from Russia. The house in which he was housed, the Poles never allowed to be altered or enlarged.
There were many parties in Kutno: Zionists, Bund, HaShomer HaTzair, Mizrahi, Aguda, Revisionists, etc. I used to participate in dramatic circles. The city possessed a precious youth; From 8 to 9 thousand Jewish people lived there.
I remember Friday night, its blessing of the light, the shamash of the school, Nuta Krajer, knocking with a stick on every door, so that people knew when to close the shops. Every house was so bright on Friday night, the candles were burning on the prepared Shabbat table. My dear mother's candle blessing is engraved in my memory, I will never forget her reciting of the Techinah. On Saturday afternoons, songs were heard in all the Jewish houses. After dinner, the children and parents strolled on Królewska Street. Chassidim were also seen in atlas silk capotes, walking to the Gur shtiebel. The Shabbat was so restful.
For Slichot, the shamash used to wake up at dawn. Rosh Hashanah was celebrated and people wished for a good year. Dad used to bless us before he went for the Kol Nidrei in the synagogue. The fear that used to grip me then what will the new year bring?
by Anszel FRAJND, London
Remember, soldiers, that we have against us a formation of enemy, which is one of the best in the Wehrmacht parachutists. Your task is: to destroy them. We have good and new weapons! Beat the Germans, take revenge for Warsaw, for Poland, for the fatherland agreed with us the captain of the tank unit of the Polish Corps, which for several days has been leading the great battle at the foot of Mount Monte Casino, in Italy.
We found ourselves on the NaplesRome road. In midMay 1944, the advance of the Second Polish Corps, led by General Anders, was delayed by the heavily fortified mount Monte Casino 519 meters. From there the Germans ruled over the whole area around and continuously spit fire. Victims fell there in the thousands. The Germans also suffered heavy losses.
…We entered the tanks, turned on the engines and the heavy machinery moved forward. But not far. Meanwhile, people had to seek refuge and camouflage in a ruined village. I waited.
From the mountain, the halfburnt church looked down on us. Like the gnawed teeth of a skeleton, which laughs at you: Three thousand Englishmen could not take me, here they are all lying here do you want to challenge me?!.
Now, there is silence everywhere. The nearby, higher mountain of Monte Casino Monte Cairo is hidden in the clouds. It looks good without the red poppy flowers, with which the whole area is densely overgrown. But the area was covered with something else: German bunkers, trenches, firing holes, observation points, mined fields. They ruled here, had control and power over an area within a radius of 15 kilometers. Despite the slightest movement in the valley or uphill, a highintensity fire soon opened. We lay hidden behind the tanks, rested, calmed down, a little bored, smoked and took a nap.
Suddenly a powerful cannonade is heard. We get out, to see our artillery softening the German positions. Then we get a command Motory w ruch, naprzód! (Turn on the engines, forward!).
The reciprocal shooting does not stop and we climb with the tanks into the very fire. The heavy bodies of the machines climb up the mountain and spit fire. The shells fall on the targets, I see wounded Germans running out of another bunker, raising their hands, in surrender. Many were killed inside. But there were no casualties from the Polish side.
The battle lasted a whole day. Yet one of the most bitter and merciless efforts to overcome this important strategic point. Some of our tanks are overturned, disassembled. The crews already not among the living. I hear a bump on the radio: Retreat, quick, hide behind hill with rocks! We can barely look back at the designated spot that heavy German bombers appear in the sky. But they are chased by English hunterplanes. We are witnesses of an airbattle. American planes come to help the English ones, which bomb Monte Casino. It goes with a horrible slaughter.
Evening fell silent. Ambulances and medical vehicles pick up the injured. We climb out of the tanks; we want to breathe in some fresh air.
Suddenly I heard my name and a question: Can you speak German? A jeep takes me to a bunker where two Polish officers, an English captain, a clerk and some soldiers, were staying. German prisoners of war sit on the ground. The Polish officer explained to me that because their translator was away at another point, they needed my help. The first interrogated prisoner of war was a German sergeant.
Have you been to Poland?
I looked at his documents and found a note in his military booklet, saying that in 1943 he spent his vacation in Gniezno. I showed him the note. He sticked his tongue out and told that returning from the Russian front, he was in Gniezno for two days.
Why did you lie?
I searched further in his papers and photographs. I found a picture of a ghetto, with barbed wire fences. On the background you can see a severely dismembered, emaciated Jew and halfnaked children looking through the barrier.
What is this? I ask.
A ghetto in Poland, replied the sergeant
Where did you photograph this?
Not mine, I got it from a neighbor.
After his lie, he was trying to deny his responsibility. And last night's hero falls to his knees and starts spasmodically shouting: I'm innocent, I'm a soldier!.
I do not know what happened to me then. I quickly removed my steel helmet from my head and hit him on the back of his neck. He fell, covered in blood and I shouted, You Nazi, murderer I'm a Jew! Now, this is your end!
The captain takes me paternally around. Synu, uspokój się (My son, calm down). I fall away in helplessness. With a staring look, I look at the picture, at my afflicted brothers. I already knew that at that time. Bitter fate abounds in the gas chambers and crematoria.
I run outside. Now, there is silence, only the air bears the scent of battle, of dead and
wounded. An ambulance stops near me. I hear a Jewish whine from inside with words: Oh, mother … mother! … I go to the wounded soldier, speak to him in Yiddish: Calm down, calm down.
In a low voice he tells me about the perished crew of his tank, they were all burned. He alone was saved for how long? I comforted him that, for him, the war was over. The end of Hitler can already be seen, he will now be taken to hospital, healed and later the wounds of our nation will have to be healed.
He shakes his head, says in a quietquiet voice:
You too will live; you will endure the war. Goodbye…
by Szmuel LARON (FALC), TelAviv
Translated from the Hebrew by Thia Persoff
The British fourengine bomber was moving ponderously in the sky. In addition to the crew, it carried about four tons of bombs. The further we got from the airport, so did the plane's speed increase. Leaving England's southern seashores behind us and already the shape of the European continent was spread before us. Here we are in Holland's sky, but this is not the land of our destination. We turned towards the cursed land of Germany; there we will dump our bombs on its cities and factories.
This is not my first flight as a pilot in the British air force. Even before now my squadron took part in some important undertakes in the skies over the lands conquered by the Nazis. But now we are flying to Germany, to the nest of the murderers.
My ruminations take me back to the days in September of 1939, when I sat with all my family in Kutno, the town where I was born and grew up. Already the German air force was bombing the helpless town's people quit frequently. The German murderersbyair did not spare even the refugees on the roads, who escaped Kutno, and shot them with machineguns. And after Poland fell, and Kutno was conquered by the Nazi army, the job of annihilating our nation had started. In my mind's eyes are passing the pictures of the Germans torturing children, women, and old people. With sadistic pleasure, lacking any iota of humanitarian feeling they tortured, and murdered our brothers and sisters! When I saw their atrocity and myself being a victim of their sadistic brutality, the idea of being a pilot and taking revenge at the German animals, had been born in my young mind.
But as my excitement for this idea grew, so did I realize how unreal it is; the possibility that when the Nazi soldiers in their boots soled with nails were wandering in Kutno's streets will a wounded Jewish boy dream of flying in a warplane, dropping bombs on the heads of Germans…
After the wounds had been scarred over, about a month later I left Kutno. There is no way to describe the experience I had while I was wandering hungry and beaten during the difficult years of the war. However, my dream was fulfilled, and now in 1943, I am an English pilot, one of the squadron's pilots of bombers with the mission of dropping its load on the German land. Seating in the plain I am full of satisfaction and Happiness, as finally I will pay the murderers, in a practical way, for their destruction of countries, cities, and nations. Moreover, topping it all, the feeling of revenge I have is pulsating in me for the pure Jewish blood that was spilled.
Through the thick darkness of the night, we notice a few faint lights. The German city the goal of our attack, burning in some areas a souvenir from previous attacks on it. The nearer we get the stronger gets the fire of their anti air defence cannons. Around us are explosions in the air, moments of fear and anxiety.
Just a little longer and we will reach our destination. I felt better. Finally, I push the bombrelease button. The exit portal opened and British bombs are dropped on the head of the Germans via a Jewish Pilot. The hour of revenge is here!
This was my first flight for bombing Germany but not the last. I had the opportunity to enjoy and get satisfaction by dropping bombs on the land of Germany. In the light of the flames rising to heights, my heart calmed a bit after the catastrophe that befell our nation. My heart exalted when remembering that I am a young Jew from Kutno downing mortal blows on the heads of the Germans, by my "dropinthebucket" revenge for their atrocious deeds, and unprecedented murderousness.
However, not for long could I satisfy my need for revenge. A year after the happenings I told before, my plane was downed by the Germans' Zenith cannons, indeed, I was lucky, as I managed to parachute out of my burning plane, but I was captured and taken a prisoner. Lucky for me, the Germans did not discover my Jewish origin, so I enjoyed all the privileges that were given to the British officers.
A few words about the downing of my plane:
When in August of 1944 the uprising started in the Polish capital in Warsaw under the leadership of general BórKomorowski against the German conquerors, The British air force command centre had transferred few squadrons to Brindisi, Italy, so that they would be closer to the front of the fighting Warsaw. Indeed, often had our planes visited the Polish capital to parachute down weapons, ammunition, food, and medicines. These were complicated, most difficult flight operation, as we had to parachute the supplies that we flew in, at certain streets that were partially in German hands, and part in the hands of the rebelling Polish. The load that I had to drop was in GrzybowskaKrólewska plaza, near the stock exchange, and that is where my plane was downed.
When I was in captivity, I kept thinking about why the allies did not give any help to the Jewish ghetto who fought for its life. They did not
send even one airplane! Did not parachute even one gun to the ghetto heroes, not one loaf of bread! Moreover, not any kind of medicine! How different could the face of the battlefield be, and the unequal struggle between a handful of fighting Jews, and their German oppressors, if London, Moscow, and New York would have given to the authority of the ghetto's heroes even a minute portion of what they supplied the general BórKomorowski?!
As yet, I have not received an answer to this piercing question…
Translated from Yiddish by Murray Citron
We got the genealogy notice of the Kanał family from our grandfather Mordechai Kanał, a Kutner resident, born in 1864. His wife Malka was from the Warszawczik family. They had three sons: IzraelMendel, Moshe (married to Lyuba Smuzik) and Isaiah.
Israel Kanał, one of the participants in the heroic uprising of the Warsaw ghetto, is the son of Moshe and Lyuba. He was born in the residence of his grandmother Malka in Kutno. The second son, Yosele, was born in Bydgoszcz, after his parents moved there.
The activities of Israel and Salo in the Warsaw ghetto are described in Melech Neustadt's book The Destruction and Rebellion of the Jews of Warsaw, published in Tel Aviv in 1948.
… Born in Bydgoszcz, in the western part of Poland, which was under German rule until after the First World War, to wealthy pious parents, maybe relatives of Rabbi I. M. Kanał, one of the most prominent Warsaw rabbis. The father, a manufacture merchant, was a Zionist and raised the children in a national spirit and taught them to speak Hebrew from an early age. Israel graduated from a local gymnasium. He was active in the Akiva movement and still participated in the last summer colony in the Zakopane region, right before the war. After the outbreak of the war, together with his family, he went to Warsaw and soon after that his mother died (in early 1942 the father died of typhus, Israel also fell ill with the same disease but he recovered). The Akiva movement also included his brother Salo, and in Warsaw they were both members of the city Akiva kibbutz on Nalewki St 10, which had 25 members. Israel was an intelligent, energetic boy, full of initiative. In his movement and out of it he was one of the first to demand active, armed resistance. At the request of the movement, he served in the Jewish Ghetto Police, but left on the eve of the Great Deportation. On August 18, 1942, following the outbreak of the Great Deportation, the Jewish Combat Organization issued a death sentence on Ghetto Police Commander Joseph Szeryński, and Israel Kanał was the one who fired the first shot of the combat organization, wounding the traitor.
Before the fight began, he taught combatants how to use a weapon. During the exercises, he was injured in the leg, but he continued his activity. During the ghetto fighting, he participated in the fighting divisions of HaShomer HaTzair. He was the commander of a group that fought bravely in the first armed resistance, on January 18, 1943, on Nowolipie St. He was later appointed Commander of the Central Ghetto. Among his colleagues, he was also known as Mietek. In battle reports he is often mentioned as one of the bravest and most courageous fighters.
After the suppression of the ghetto uprising, he and the last remaining fighters escaped by the
sewer pipes to the Aryan side. For a time, he was in the Wyszków forests. Due to his illness, he had to return to Warsaw. His pronounced Jewish appearance did not allow him to engage in any activities on the Aryan side, and hiding him created difficulties. He therefore agreed to be made a foreign citizen with documents. In August 1943, he moved to the BergenBelsen camp. On October 21, 1943, Simchat Torah 5704, he was deported, along with 1,800 other Jews, ostensibly to Bergau near Dresden. He was 22 years old when he was assassinated (his brother Salo was sent from the Krakow HeChalutz HaLocham in the woods, with a small partisan group of six young Jewish fighters. Due to a denunciation, the Germans surrounded their hideout and five people fell in the battle, among them Salo) (pp. 515516).
… That same day (from August 20 to 21, 1942) the first shot was fired by the Jewish Combat Organization: Israel Kanał seriously wounded Józef Szeryński with two bullets.
… Israel Kanał came to Szeryński's apartment in Nowolipki as a policeman, otherwise he would not have been allowed in. Szeryński did not die from his wounds (p. 141).
… In the workshops area, Israel Kanał fought valiantly at the head of a small group of fighters. (p. 150).
… Israel Kanał was appointed as the Commander of the Central Ghetto Area (p. 152).
… Last year, Eliezer Geller and Israel Kanał, along with a group of colleagues, traveled abroad on the basis of foreign documents in the Bergen near Hanover (BergenBelsen) camp. We have no information about them. We are very worried about their fate. Intervene for them… (p. 220 from a letter from Zivia [Lubetkin], Yitzhak [Cuckierman], Tuvia Borzykowski, to E. Dobkin, Y. Tabenkin, M. Ya'ari and Y. Baratz, dated: Warsaw, 24 May 1944).
… That night (April 29), another delegation was sent out: Tuvia Borzykowski (see his diary), Israel Kanał, Mordechai Growas. Menachem Bigelman and six other fighters. On the way, they clashed with Germans. A fight broke out in which several Germans were killed. Seven of the fighters, and among them four wounded, managed to fall back to the positions of the fighters; three of them who did not succeed, endured an allnight struggle with much larger German forces and the Germans did not bow to them (p. 278).
… Lilka Żimak was… during the uprising, she was a member of an action group of Dror. She fought in the Central Ghetto, was the liaison of the Commander of the Central Ghetto, Israel Kanał (p. 464).
… Some of the fallen, although still mentioned in the documents, have served as central and main figures in the Jewish Combat Organization, such as Hirsch Berlinski, Eliezer Geller, Mordechai (Merdeck) Growas, Israel Kanał, Michał Rosenfeld and others (p. 323).
… Among the list of 50 names of ghetto fighters who, on the second anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, were awarded the Order of Merit by the Polish Army General Staff for their heroic fight against the Nazi occupiers, there is the name of Israel Kanał (p. 328).
Our townsman Eliezer Asz, is also mentioned in the book of M. Neustadt:
… Asz Eliezer Member of the combat group of HaNoar HaTzioni. His name appears on the list of those killed in the Warsaw ghetto fighting, which was sent to London in November 1943. We have not been able to find out details about him (p. 354).
The following list of registered Jews in the Kutner help-committee in the years 1945-1946, was compiled in Polish and included Kutner and non-Kutner after the war.
Jewish Help Committee, Kutno section.
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