by Yechiel Duzenman, Melbourne, Australia
Translated by Miriam Bulwar DavidHay
Kiernozia lies 21 kilometers from Lowicz on the old Polish road to SannikiIlowo. From the start it had a Jewish community. The town was already mentioned in old Polish chronicles from the year 1564.
On the eve of the Second World War, there were 78 Jewish families, numbering some 300 souls, living in the town. There was a synagogue, a beit midrash, two talmudei Torah, and two Hassidic shtiebelech.
The rabbi of this small community was Rabbi MosheBezalel Perkal zl; the head of the community was Hershel Berkowicz. The others: Meir Duzenman, Yakov Helmer, Yehezkiel Portugal and Itche Gotlib.
Around 50 Jewish children studied in the local Polish school. There was one Jewish organization in Kiernozia, Beitar, which numbered 35 to 40 members.
Kiernozia did not have its own cemetery. The deceased were taken to be buried in neighboring Ilowo or to Lowicz.
The Polish population lived in good friendship with the Jews, and each person knew the other.
Straight from the second day of the war, Kiernozia was overflowing with refugees, Christians and Jews, from Wroclawek, Torun, Grudziaz, and the surrounding area.
On the 15th of September, Rosh Hashanah, the town was bombarded from 12 noon to 6:30 in the evening. Half the town was destroyed. A panic began and that night most of the refugees and the local inhabitants fled the town into neighboring villages.
Among the small number of the population who stubbornly remained in their places were around 30 Jews who did not want to leave their homes because of Rosh Hashanah and wanted to hold a public prayer.
The next day, Shabbat lunchtime, when the Jews found themselves in the small synagogue, a bomb fell. Around 20 Jews were killed on the spot, and the rest were seriously wounded. The same fate befell the other inhabitants.
The murderous bombardment kept on, with small breaks, until Monday morning, when the Nazi soldiers marched into the town and occupied the entire area. A few hours later, they assembled the entire population, around 3,000 people, and drove everyone, without exception, on foot toward Zychlin, 17 kilometers away. There they held everyone for an entire night, exhausted and hungry, under the open sky. First thing in the morning, a sergeant came and ordered the Jews only to come forward. Those who did not do this so quickly were pointed out by the Volksdeutsch [ethnic Germans who lived in Poland], and the resisters were beaten murderously by the gendarmes.
After the Jews of Kiernozia were divided off from the Christian population, they were taken together with the Jews of Zychlin to hard labor.
On the fourth day, we were taken to the commander and were each given a nominal pass to enable us to return to Kiernozia. In this way the Germans amused themselves over the elderly Jews, and with bestial enjoyment cut off their beards.
Upon our return to the town, we first saw our disaster. Half the town lay in ruins, the houses burned, and Yiddish [property] well and truly robbed.
In their time of trouble the Jews leaned on one another, and we helped where we could, living two or three families in one small house. We did not accost a single open Jewish criminal.
Hardship began to look each of us in the eye. Those who still had a place to hide a small amount of merchandise could get various products for this from the peasants, with difficulty. And with great caution a piece of secret trading would begin, and we wrangled for our existence.
In March 1940, word came that within five days all the Jews must move to two small streets on the edge of town, where Jews had never lived. The Germans ordered the Poles living in those two small streets with their few houses to move for the most part into Jewish houses. The science was inexact, and many Jews fell ill.
The entire Jewish male population from the age of 15 on was forced to work, first to erect a fence around the ghetto. Every day, gendarmes used to come into the ghetto and drag out young and old for hard work, and at the same time to rob Jews whenever they could. We stayed in the ghetto until March 1941.
They gave us four weeks to prepare ourselves to move into the Warsaw ghetto. In Kiernozia there were at this time 650 Jewish souls.
We knew that in the Kielce area no one had been forced into any ghetto. We decided to go to that area, to Cmielow, from where our father (may he rest in peace) came, and where we had a brother.
One night my mother (may she rest in peace) wrapped herself in courage and stole out of the ghetto and crept into the house of the wife of the mayor, a Volksdeutsch, who was a childhood friend of hers. She led my mother into a special room, and there my mother proposed that this woman get her husband to obtain a travel pass from the district council (staraste, in Lowicz). A few days later, the mayor approached a member of the council, a known murderer and drunk, and from him obtained his signature on a blank travel pass.
After obtaining the document, we reached an understanding with a young Christian, a school friend of mine, that he would come in to the ghetto. He came in with his mother. We discussed our plan with them, and he promised to help us. We had confidence in him, and that night draped him with jewelry and a certain sum of money.
The next day, he drove off to Cmielow, 190 kilometers away, and carried out his mission exactly. He gave my brother (may he rest in peace) the jewelry and the money.
Two days later, he returned to Kiernozia and brought a Yiddish letter with him from my brother, in which it was confirmed that he had received everything. In the same letter, my brother informed us that in 10 days a cargo train would come to us, which traveled every two weeks from Ostrowiec to Lowicz carrying iron: It traveled back without a load, and could take several families. We must, however, be ready at the exact time because the train could not wait for us.
My father went straight to several families in whom we could have confidence, and revealed the plan to them, and asked them if they wanted to be partners in the escape.
In the meantime, the young Pole traveled four more times to Cmielow and handed over jewelry and money for those families, who undertook to travel on the legal travel pass to the Kielce area. The young Christian did not touch a hair of the assets that had been entrusted to him. Therefore later we rewarded him very well.
When everything was ready for the trip, I filled out the travel pass for 36 people, destination city Cmielow. Traveling out of the ghetto was not at all suspicious because it was at a time when Jews were allowed to leave freely for Warsaw.
We traveled with the train all night, more than 10 hours, and arrived safely in Cmielow. There my brother Nuta (may he rest in peace) had organized housing for all the families from Kiernozia. Compared with life in the ghetto, Cmielow looked to us like a Garden of Eden.
Our joy, however, did not last long. On the 16th of October, 1942, the entire town was encircled by the S.S. and their helpers. They drove all the Jews together in the middle of the marketplace and the German murderers surrounded us.
Before the liquidation of the Jewish population, the murderers chose just 60 young people, men capable of work, among whom I found myself and my brother. The entire Jewish population was led to carts and driven to Treblinka, among them my dear parents and nearest [relatives and friends].
My brother and I, along with the 60 young people, were driven away, first to Ostrowce, to the iron foundry, where we worked hard. We were then driven back to Cmielow, where we were held in a camp for a short time. We were then taken to the Piantki [Pietki?] camp, next to Radom, where we worked in a powder factory.
After this, when the Red Army came near to the Polish capital, we were rolled over to the Oranienburg camp, next to Berlin. We stayed there until the 27th of April, 1945, when the Russians, after a fierce battle, seized the town and freed us from the death camp.
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