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[Page 220]

The Holocaust – The Shoah

 

The River Disappeared And with it the Jews

by G. Tcharneson–Shayak

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

…The Heavens have not been bolted by the angels, and the victims fell by the lurking deadly bullets, leaving ruined and ghostly towns, living in the ashes…

Through the Mazow [Mazovia] flatlands, like a silver ribbon meanders the ancient river Bzura, a tributary of the Vistula. On its banks the town Lowicz has been built.

The flatland around the town was rich soil with extended vegetation, and served as pasture for large herds of sheep and cattle.

In prehistoric times, a settlement existed here on the banks of the river for over eight hundred years. The river was a natural barrier against belligerent tribes, which attacked the open town, owned by the Mazow princes.

The town was never protected by trenches or walls, as were other towns in antiquity. However, at almost all times, foreign armies were stopped by the river and defeated while trying to cross the water barrier, in their march deeper inland toward the gates of Warsaw.

The ancient dwellers have built their town right at the bend of the river, where its two giant water branches cut deep into the dry land, thus forming two natural islands and good defense positions.

Old chronicles relate that the Swedish invasion army, under King Karl Gustav X and later under Gustav XII, were caught here and could not continue their march to Moscow. Other invaders suffered similar defeats, among them the defeat of Hindenburg's Army on its march to Warsaw in 1914.

The same was repeated during the “Hitler Blitz.” General Von Brauchitsch's armored units, as well, were stopped by the Bzura River, slowing down the Nazis at the beginning of September 1939.

But finally, after a bitter fight, on the 9th of September, the Nazi war–machine began destroying the town. Entire neighborhoods were erased from the face of the earth by artillery fire and constant bombing from the air. For days on end were the skies hidden by the smoke from the burning houses, and an unbearable smell was constantly in the air.

Later, Nazi strategists arrived and studied the topography of the town and the area around the river, in order to find the reason for the heavy losses of the armored Wehrmacht on the banks of the Bzura.

And then came the order: “Amputate” the river!… Cut off its water–arms that surround the town for a length of several miles – in the East and West of its periphery.

This very important and highly strategic work was “entrusted” to the Jewish population. The Lowicz Jews – Chasidim, small–businessmen, craftsmen and unemployed intellectuals – were never expert technicians, engineers or hard–working farmers. They had very little understanding in improvement works, certainly not in canal building.

But the draconic Nazi order was issued, and during one night the Jewish population was mobilized to the physically inhuman work – to curb the natural path of the Bzura and transfer the riverbed half a mile over the fields.

This happened at the beginning of spring 1940, after the Lowicz ghetto, the first in the Gubernia, was created. As in other ghettos, the Judenrat was forced to create a “ghetto–police,” and forced labor began.

Three hundred Jewish workers were taken every morning to the “Bzura Project.” Every day these Jewish slaves received a scarce 200 grams of bread and some soup. They fell like flies, weakened, hungry, exhausted by the inhuman work, forced to fight with bare hands against the water to change its primordial flow.

Later, an epidemic broke out, cutting through the slave workers. This, however, was not cause enough for the Nazi bandits to stop the works. Every day, the same number of men had to report for work – the Gendarmerie with the help of the ghetto–police took care of that.

It took over four months to complete the project and divert the course of the river.

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On one side of the river, huge mounds of earth were piled up; on the other side were the dead bodies of the slave workers. The bridge at the foot of the castle disappeared, and the light sounds made by the song of the water were never heard in the region again.

The Lowicz Jewish slave workers have thus erected an earth embankment five meters high, over an area of six miles, from the bridge to the “Capitoli” water–mill. Along the Bzura a sidewalk was constructed, paved with the tombstones of the Jewish cemetery.

The Lowitz Jews had no idea, in those terribly fearful days, that blind fate cynically played with them: before they left on their last road to extinction, they erected for themselves a memorial that will remain standing for many generations… and at the foot of this huge memorial they left a path paved with thousands of tombstones of their ancestors…

And, with the disappearance of the former alive and ever–flowing river, another living fountainhead disappeared – the Jewish community, which has lived and worked here for many, many generations, and of which today nothing is left.


My Visit to Lowitz in 1945

by L. Segal

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

At the end of 1945, several months after WWII was over, when the dark Nazism suffered the well–earned defeat on the battlefield, the writer of these lines was appointed by the Zionist World–Congress and the Zionist Labor Movement to visit several European countries, in particular Poland. The tragedy that Hitler has brought upon the Jewish people was enormous and still very fresh.

It is not my intention in this article to provide a formal and detailed report of what I have seen in Europe, when I was there by the end of 1945 and the beginning of 1946, and not what I have seen in Poland, the land of the largest Jewish cemetery in the world. My purpose is simply to report a few impressions from my visit to my birthplace, Lowicz.

I arrived in Lowicz by automobile, with several guards around me, at three o'clock in the afternoon. We came from Warsaw, and as we arrived in the Old Town (marketplace) it seemed to me that nothing has changed. The houses were standing – the same houses that stood here when I left the town in 1911. The Magistrate's big house was untouched, the shops were open, several peasants stood in the empty marketplace – everything as before, and yet entirely different.

I mentioned the guards who were with me. Yes, in 1945, several months after the end of the War and the liberation of Poland from Hitlerism, it was still deadly dangerous for Jews to be in Poland, in particular to travel from town to town.

Most of the Poles looked with envy at any living Jew they happened to meet. It annoyed them very much that Hitler's murderers have not succeeded in murdering all the Jews. The newspapers were full of reports about peasants murdering Jews daily. The Kielce pogrom is the best example.

Overcome by deep loneliness and great sadness, I stood almost a half hour by the Magistrate's house and never saw even one Jew passing there. I stepped into a pub (again accompanied by my guards) and asked the owner whether one can find a Jew somewhere in town. The pub owner looked at me with great amazement and with not less curiosity and replied: “niema” [none], adding that many Jews used to live in town, but all were deported and burned somewhere, and no Jew remained in town.

My car took me through Zdonska Street, where Jews lived in almost every house, and every shop was owned by a Jew. As I stood and observed the street, the houses and the people, my sadness and feeling of loneliness increased again – again I did not see even one Jew.

Then we went to the New Town (the new market), to the street where, in my youth, many Jews lived. I entered the courtyard where my parents once lived and the little house where I spent the first years of my childhood and youth. I found everything – the same houses, almost the same view and almost the same Goyim, but I found not one Jew.

In our courtyard lived a carpenter. His children and I went together to the municipal school. In the same courtyard lived also the old man Stach who worked for my mother, may she rest in peace, as

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coal carrier (after my father's death my mother went into the business of coal and wood). The carpenter's children and Stach recognized me and during the first minutes they showed me friendliness, asked about my health, my family, about my brothers and sisters etc. Naturally, I asked them what has become of my family in Lowicz, in particular my sister with her husband and six children. They replied that all Jews were taken out of town and the Germans burned them somewhere, among them my sister, brother–in–law and their children.

I insisted that they tell me whether really no Jew was in town; if there was, where is he? Where can I see him? Their reply was the same as that of the pub owner before: “niema.”

 

low222.JPG
The bank of the Bzura River paved with Jewish tombstones

 

The crowd around us became larger and larger. The yard was almost full with townspeople – men and women, young, old and children.

I overheard a discussion between a man and a woman, saying that I came to collect things that were taken from the Jews, and particularly to drive out the gentile neighbors who were living in my sister's house on Zdonska Street. In the discussion I also overheard words that were not flattering to me.

I told my guards that I must leave the place as soon as I can. The car took us, at my request, to the Jewish cemetery.

There, the great destruction and ruin of the Polish Jewry was again before my eyes. There was no fence around the place, the graves were destroyed, many tombstones broken, other stones were pulled out of the earth. The violation of the cemetery was total. Again mourning and deep loneliness overcame me.

Standing there with the guards and some of the townspeople who gathered out of curiosity, I suddenly noticed a man who was hiding – one moment he showed himself and the next moment disappeared. The man attracted my attention and I followed him. When I came near, he cried out with great pain who he was (Srulke Becker [or Srulke the baker, YK], the cripple) and called me by my name (later, in 1947, I met Srulke Becker in Eretz Israel).

Srulke then told me about the great tragedy that fell upon the Jews of Lowicz, just as upon the Jews in the rest of Poland. He told me that he was keeping secret the fact he was a Jew, that he is working in a Polish bakery, and seldom goes out into the street. This time he came out, because he heard among the goyim a rumor about a Lowicz born Jew, who came from America and intended to take away from the gentile population the property and goods that they had robbed from the Jews.

Srulke told me, that in Lowicz there were only seven Jews. He took us to the only Jewish home in town, on Zdunska Street, on the third floor (an apartment that looked like an attic).

When we came in, the seven Jews were already gathered there; they awaited me with curiosity.

It is difficult to describe the pain and weeping as they related their experiences, and, on the other hand, the joy at finally seeing one of their own. Every one of them told his story of disaster and tragic experiences.

As I sat in the house, surrounded by love and friendship, but at the same time feeling deep sadness and sorrow, one of them attracted my attention to several holes in the wall near the window. They told me, that often the Poles are firing shots toward the house – they cannot bear the fact that the few Jews escaped alive and they intended to kill them or drive them out of town.

We then went for a walk on the Podjetchna Street and we saw that a long stretch of the sidewalk was paved with Jewish tombstones, with the Jewish inscriptions visible.

The Nazi murderers, helped by the Poles, were not satisfied with only killing the Jewish people and robbing their property; they sought, at the same time, to humiliate the Jewish honor and weaken the holiest feelings that Jews carried in their hearts for long generations. They paved the sidewalks with the tombstones, with the Hebrew letters showing on top of them, in order to

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have the sadistic satisfaction of daily walking on and suppressing Jewish sanctity.

I shall never forget the warm and hearty talk with the Lowicz survivors. I shall also never forget their faces and eyes expressing fear and courage, as well as their often–heard cry: “What will become of us? Where shall we run now? Where shall we hide from the enemy that lurks in the shadows for us?”

We organized some help, we took the addresses of relatives in America and Eretz Israel and I promised the eight lonely Jews in Lowicz that I shall help them leaving the place as soon as possible and, if possible, try to organize their lives on a human and Jewish basis.

I left Lowicz at about 9 in the evening. I knew it was very dangerous for me and my guards to travel that late at night from Lowicz to Warsaw. We also knew, however, that it was even more dangerous for us to remain in town for the night.

We arrived in Warsaw late, and I felt as if I had gone through a dreadful nightmare. I couldn't believe that what I saw and experienced during the few hours I spent in my town of birth was reality. I longed to believe that it was just a bad dream.

When I visited, next day, the former Jewish quarter in Warsaw, street by street – the places that for hundreds of years sparked with Judaism, Jewish talents, Jewish creativity and Jewish action an every area – and saw that from all this not even one wall has remained standing, that the entire region turned into an open field, full of mountains of bricks and sand of destroyed houses; when I realized what has become of over one thousand years of Jewish life, Jewish toil and Jewish achievements in Warsaw, the sadness that had engulfed me while in Lowicz was overshadowed by the horrible reality that the former Jewish Warsaw presented itself here.

Then, instinctively, a curse tore out of my heart and my mouth – a curse on all that the so–called human civilization represented, and a curse on those, who have caused the great tragedy of the Jews and of all humanity.


[Page 228]

The Transfer to the Warsaw Ghetto
(Details directly related to the Lowicz Region)

by T. Brusteen–Bernstein (Warsaw)

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

Administrative Division and Statistical Data

The transfer of Jewish population from one place to another was one of the stages in Hitler's anti–Jewish politics in the framework of the plan to systematically annihilate all the Jews.

During the first period of the German rule in Poland, tens of thousands of Jews from the various districts of Poland were transferred to the ghettos, where they lived in a limited area, lacking the most elementary living conditions.

In many places, the ghettos were not more than a temporary, short–living phenomenon. Very often, the dense Jewish population was thrown out after a few weeks and crowded in another town.

The Warsaw district had 13 provinces, among them 8 that had belonged to the former Warsaw Voivodship, which included Lowicz.

The seats of the district governors were located in 10 towns: Warsaw, Sochachew, Groyce, Lowicz, Skierniewice, Minsk, Sokolov, Siedlice, Gawrolin, Ostrow; they had representatives in 3 other towns: Dzirardov, Grodzinsk and Vengrov. On 15 April 1941, the districts Lowicz and Skierniewice were united and Lowicz was selected as the seat of the district governor.

The policy of population transfer concerned a huge percent of the Jewish population. The Jewish refugee, as soon as he tried to settle in his new home, was thrown into a new condition of life. This way the Germans intended to weaken the natural vitality and the power of resistance of the refugees, in particular the already weakened Jewish population. The German administration of the district was constantly busy looking for new places to transfer the Jews.

On 10 July 1940, the “Umsiedling” [“relocation”] division in Warsaw addressed the German administration in Lublin asking for help in relocating 10 thousand Jews from the towns Dzirardov and Lowicz to the Lublin area, since the possibilities to settle them in the Warsaw district have been exhausted. The commander of the Warsaw Division explained to his colleague (1) that the deportation of the Jews from Dzirardov is done for a good reason: to eliminate their damaging influence on the greater part of the general population, and (2) that the overpopulation of the Lowicz ghetto can have bad results, from the point of view of sanitation.

The Jews of the Western regions, that is those from Groyce, Sochachew, Lowicz, Skierniewice and from the West side of the Warsaw area were relocated to Warsaw during the first quarter of 1941 and were considered refugees. A large part of these refugees died from hunger and epidemic diseases during the first six months of their being there; the workers in the labor camps were also taken from among the refugees. Many of the refugees were taken with the first transports to the death camp Treblinka.

 

Transfer within the Limits of the Western Part of the Warsaw District

Between May and December 1940, Jewish ghettos were established in the main towns of the Western region of the Warsaw District: Groyce, Sochachew, Lowicz, Skierniewice and part of the Warsaw region at the West of the Vistula River.

In the Lowicz area, some of the ghettos were established in May and June 1940, and in other regions in the fall of 1940. Jews from the neighboring villages and communities were moved to the ghettos.

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The largest number of Jews in the Lowicz region lived in Lowicz and Glowno. Smaller numbers, about 500–600 souls were in Bolimow, Kiernozie and Lyszkowice. In 1940, Lowicz had 8,032 Jews, among them 4,466 refugees.

Transfer of Jews to Warsaw

Lowicz Region Number of Jews
before transfer
Date of transfer
to Warsaw
Bolimow 460 March 1941
Glowno 5,220 March 1941
Kiernozie 650 March 1941
Lowicz about 7,000 March 1941
Lyszkowice about 500 March 1941

 

A Soup–Kitchen for Refugees in Lowicz

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

The following details, concerning he aid and support that the refugees in the Lowicz ghetto received from the Jewish community, were taken from records and data sent to us, at our request, by the Jewish institute in Warsaw.

A report from August 1940 states that the Social Aid Committee for refugees worked in exceptionally difficult conditions and helped, during that month, 4,852 people.

Work in the Kitchen was irregular; there were days when no meals were distributed. On the average, 1112 meals were dispensed, 59% for adults (655 persons) and 41% for children (451).

 

A feeding station for children

A special feeding station for children was organized. It began with 143 children, aged 4 to 12. The number soon increased to 310. Meals were dispensed twice daily. Small children received 0.5 l. milk and 280 g. bread. Older children received sweetened coffee and the same amount of bread.

During the month of August, the children were bathed twice. The boys received a haircut before bathing, thus helping keep better hygiene.

The cultural and educational work was not easy, since the children assembled in the eating hall were of different ages. However, every effort was made to maintain this work. Every morning stories were read to the children and discussions were conducted. A small “self–management” was also organized.

On 22 December 1940, the JOINT in Warsaw was informed that the ghetto remained without potatoes and the soup kitchen was not functioning. Potatoes have been exchanged for flour, which was sufficient for a few days only. There were also severe snow storms.

On 20 January 1941, an urgent letter was sent to the management of the Jewish Social Aid in Krakow, informing them that the soup kitchen was out of products and people were dying of hunger and freezing to death. The committee was helpless, and a delegate could not be sent, since he was refused a travel permit.

Signed:
President: I. Mjedzhinski
Vice–president: I. Feigenbaum

(Archives 346/229, p. 29)

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low230.JPG
Part of the letter to the Council of the Jewish Social Self–Aid, concerning supply of food for the Jews transferred from Lowicz to Warsaw [Polish]

364. –
Warsaw, 19 April 1941
Pres. No. 31/41
Arrived: 24 April 1941. 2858. Done.
To the Council of the Jewish Social Self–Aid in Krakow.
1. Concerning the document of Management group 111a from the Warsaw District from, the 10th inst.
By this document from the 10th April the Commissar of the Jewish quarter in Warsaw (Management group 111a) informs the IIS that during the period between 12th to 30th inst. the transfer of the remaining 3 thousand Jews in the Lowicz district to Warsaw will take place. In the second document of the same date, the commissar Mahns informs that the section management provided the sum of 200,000 Zloty to the transfer station, to buy necessary products, and asks that of that sum 80,000 Zloty be reserved for food for the people transferred from Lowicz and the 9,000 transferred from Minsk. It is recommended as well, to act as fairly as possible toward the deportees.
2. Concerning the meeting with Commissar Mahns on 18th inst.
Following a telephone message, I was invited by Mr. Mahns to a longer meeting, on April 19th. In the course of that meeting I mentioned a series of basic problems, the first being that during the month of March the necessary products have not been provided, as promised. More than half of April was over and we have still not received the products for the social management, needed in particular to feed the huge number of the “transferred.”
I thanked for the provision of the sum to the transfer–station, and informed that approximately 200.000 Zloty are found at the moment at the transfer–station; however, if we will not be able to obtain the products at the continental prices, the money, even doubled, will not suffice for the purpose it was designated.
We urgently need basic vital products: bread, flour, potatoes and fat.
I also attracted the attention to the contents of my report concerning the transfer action and the increase of the death toll due to hunger, asking, in the name of the hungry and the weak, to take steps to ensure the provision of life saving products.

 


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Writings from the Ghetto

by Immanuel Ringelblum

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

Page 36

The 14th December 1939.

I would like to say the following: Jews were deported from Posen in sealed railway cars, among them Professors Bartel and Taylor with their families. They were sent to Warsaw. From there to Lowicz and then further to Radomska. The local Jews knew about their arrival, and welcomed them with bread, milk and water; although they were driven away brutally, they returned.

Page 62

The Jews were transferred to Wiskitki, Blono and Grodzjisk. In Lowicz there are new transports. Lately (before January 1st) deported Jews from the Lodz region arrived.

Page 115

Diseases are spreading in Lowicz, which is encircled with barbed wire. It is impossible to go in or out.

The ghetto in Lowicz was established in May 1940.

It was heard from Glowno Jews that peasants supported and helped them through the entire winter. Every Jew who entered the village, returned with a sack of potatoes.

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March 10th 1941.

The greatest Polish artists – Stempovski, Jaracz, Maliczka and others, judges and lawyers – the menace of death looms over their heads if they do not report before the authorities as ordered. It is rumored that 44 Polish women reported yesterday, among them the artist Bzhizhinska, who, after reporting killed herself by poison. A similar story is told in Lowicz, where all members of the Polish intelligentsia were arrested.

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April 26th 1941

During the Aktzia on Passover, the Lowicz millionaire Ravitzki fainted twice because of hunger.

Page 254

The first news from the camps was bad news, in particular the news concerning Lowicz Jews: 200 g. bread, and work in water, at the project of regulating the flow of the Bzura River. Craftsmen and some others were liberated from the camps. The apprehension of the Jews concerning the “snatchers” [those who caught Jews and handed them over to the authorities, to be sent directly to the camps] was so great, that a delegation of police officers explained to the community that they don't like either to be used at the difficult work at the river. Part of them declared that they prefer to go to the camp, rather than be caught and sent to work. Some (very few) were indeed sent to the camp. One of them earned 5,000 Zloty one night, and several days later he was sent to the camp and then he came accompanied by a policeman to buy food. He explained that for 200 Zloty he can release people from the camp. The acts of the camp–defense officers, recruited from among the Ukrainians, were felt by the Jews. Yesterday, the 25th April 1941, they tried to rob the Jewish shops. They were caught, put in chains and taken away. The same happened today, the 26th. It was rumored that one of the defense–police of the camp caught a Jewish young man, poured on him gasoline and set fire. They carry rifles and wear green uniforms.

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Of the 500 Jews sent to Lowicz, 150 returned sick, three died. The reason is simple: the exhausted refugees were left two days without food. Doing forced labor in Lowicz, they received 200 g. bread a day.

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low232.JPG
Photocopy of headlines and article from some of the Warsaw Jewish newspapers (November 16, 1931) about the pogrom in Lowicz

[Terrible hours of pogrom panic in Lowicz
The Jewish population in Lowicz lives in constant panic and fear
Great Panic in Lowicz
Wild mob breaks windows and tries to rob
Several Jews were woinded, one of them severely]

 

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