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[Page 70-75]

The Holocaust Period 1939-1945

plo447.jpg [20 KB]
Drawing by Yaacov Guterman

The Jews of Plotzk Under the Nazi Regime

by Dr. Joseph Kermish

[Page 70-73]

Until the Deportation

The first bombs fell in Plotzk on September 1st, 1939, at 6 AM. People first thought that these were air force exercises but very soon realized that the war had begun. Shops were closed down and peasants who had come to the market, rushed home.

On the second and third days several wealthy Jewish inhabitants fled town and escaped to Warsaw. On the fourth day began the evacuation by order of the authorities. People fled in three directions to Warsaw (by motor-boats), to Gombin and Gostynin.

Plotzk was captured by the German army on September 8th, 1939. During the initial 2-3 weeks the town was under military rule and no anti-Jewish measures were taken by the military forces. German soldiers even did their shopping in Jewish stores. In some cases, German soldiers warned Jews against danger from the Gestapo. Plotzk refugees, who had gone to nearby Gombin, being under the impression that the Germans meant no harm, even returned to town.

In the last days of September it seemed that life in town became normal. But on October 7th, 1939, when according to Hitler's decree, Plotzk was annexed to West Prussia (Gau West-Preussen), and the rule over those territories was handed over to Nazi party-organs (especially the Gestapo), the persecution began: confiscations of Jewish shops, kidnappings of Jews for forced labor, sadistic treatment of religious Jews, etc.

On October 15th, 1939, 10 Jewish notables were summoned to the Judendrat, and notified that a collective fine of 1 million zlotys had been imposed on the Jewish population as a penalty for its disloyalty towards the German authorities. They were ordered to collect this amount within a few hours, while three of them were retained in custody as hostages, where they were maltreated and beaten. After negotiations the Germans agreed to accept half a million only and the hostages were released.

At that time Jews began to leave the mixed residential quarters. Individual Germans started to loot Jewish homes, taking away pieces of furniture, house utensils, etc. Jews were forced to greet uniformed Germans by taking off their hats and forbidden to use the side-walks. Many Jews disappeared after having been arrested at night. The constant looting by Gestapo-men made daily life unbearable.

The Rabbi of town was forced to leave Plotzk, after having been taken several times to do forced labor and having suffered greatly. The Great Synagogue was converted into a garage, the Little Synagogue was demolished, and the Beit Hamidrash at Szeroka Street was turned into a concentration place for workers and a guard-room of the "Jewish police". Many German offices used Scrolls of the Law for stair coverings. Kidnapping of Jews and forced shaving of beards and side-locks became a daily occurrence. Religious Jews in prayer-shawls and Tefillin were forced to dance in the streets to the amusement of Germans who took snapshots of these scenes.

In the last days of October 1939 all industrial and commercial undertakings were officially closed and confiscated. Yellow notices were affixed to them: "Jewish-Closed". The Mayor published a decree forbidding Jews to engage in commerce and industry as of October 31st, and specifying in 7 paragraphs the ways and means by which Jewish enterprises were to be taken over by Germans. All Jewish property was thus confiscated "according to Law". The Germans set fire to the Jewish mill and accused its owners of having caused the conflagration themselves.

At the end of November 1939 the Jews were forced to wear yellow "Magen David" badges, and to sign their identity cards with their finger-prints. Many Jews escaped from town to Warsaw and other places.

At the end of 1939, after liquidating the Kehila Committee, the German authorities nominated a "Judenrat" consisting of a few known personalities, and of some new people, who until then had not taken any active part in public affairs. One of the first steps of the "Judenrat" was to set up the "Jewish Police". The "Judenrat" became responsible for carrying out German orders, supplying manpower for the German military and other authorities and regulating the life of the Jewish population.

The "Judenrat" managed to keep some shops open for the Jewish population, which was deprived the right to buy from non-Jewish shops-owners.

A Jewish pharmacy, clinic and post office branch were also opened. The Jewish Ghetto was established by order of the Nazis in September 1940, and enclosed Synagogalna, Szeroka, and part of Bielska Street. Jews were forbidden to leave this area without special permits (Strassenschein), all contacts with the outside world were cut off, daily routine centering around the "Judenrat", which opened a bakery and some shops for food and fuel distribution.

7600 Plotzk Jews and 3000 refugees from Dobrzyn, Rypin, Sierpc, Raciaz etc. lived in the ghetto in December 1940. The terrible congestion, hunger, epidemic diseases, lack of medicines, made life unbearable. Ghetto residents used doors and window-frames as fuel to heat their homes.

At that period the Nazis began to persecute the Polish intelligentsia. Some of the Polish lawyers, doctors and teachers were being sent to concentration camps or killed, and the churches were closed.

Inside the Ghetto the "Judenrat" tried with all means at its disposal to prevent the deportation Jews from Plotzk by bribing the Germans with money, drinks and presents. Nevertheless the "Judenrat slowly turned into an instrument of the Germans by which their discrimination orders were carried out. The poorer segments of the Jewish population suffered more than the people who had some means left.

The ghetto was shocked one Saturday in September 1940 when the Germans brutally expelled all the inmates of the Home of Aged, which had existed for many decades, and killed all of them in nearby Dzialdowo, but for 12 who managed to escape. Later the "Judenrat" was ordered to compile a list of incurables, sick and crippled people. All of them disappeared. A fortnight later the "Judenrat" was told to draw up a list of Zionist leaders. Instead a list of dead personalities and of those who escaped to Russia was handed in. The authorities then arrested five Jews, who were picked up at random on the street and sent them to a camp.

The day of general deportation from the ghetto approached. A few days before February 20, 1941, 25 men were arrested and killed. This was the first mass-murder of Jews in Plotzk. The verdict said that the executed had planned an attempt on the Gestapo. The "Judenrat" members had to be present during the execution as hostages "in order to prevent re-occurrence of such acts". The names of the victims were identified according to the documents found in their mass grave after the war. The last victim, Samek Szatan escaped but perished later. The victims of that execution were: Grynszpan Mosze age 38, Sadzowka Mosze age 55, Bogacz Reuwen age 25, Plocker Hersz age 38, Przachedzki Dawid and his son Abraham 17 years old, Flaks Abraham age 55 and his son Pinchas age 23, Rotblat Simcha Lajb age 32, Szwarc Moniek age 30, Porzka Jakob age 38, Bursztyn Abram age 32, Bursztyn Israel age 25, Kredit Mark age 27, Zilberberg Hersz Reuwen, Fajka Efraim, Papierczyk Fiszel, Korstein Mosze, Szmit Aharon Lajzer, Goldberg, Graubard Efraim, Rifenholc Icchak, Kamzel, Herszkowicz Cadok, Zgal Alter. (Source note 43 in the Hebrew version, page 459).

After that the general feeling of Plotzk Jews was that the day of calamity was approaching. People slept at nights with their packed bags, and were ready for everything. In order not to be taken away by surprise they organized a guards system every night from 7 PM. onward.

On February 20, 1941 the news about the impending general deportation of the Jews from the ghetto was spread. On that day the "Jewish Policemen" were summoned to Gestapo Headquarters, where they were beaten with whips which the "Judenrat" was commanded to supply earlier. In the evening rumors were circulated in the ghetto that the deportation had been postponed and that money had been raised to bribe Commissar Burg. But on the morrow the deportation began. At 4 o'clock in the morning the patients of the Jewish hospital were taken out, and about half of them were beaten to death on the spot. At that time, S.S. men in four lorries arrived at the corner of Szeroka and Bielska Streets, shouting "Juden heraus!".

All the Jews were driven from their homes and concentrated on Szeroka Street. There they remained from early in the morning until noon. Packages, handbags, etc. were taken away. They were told to enter trucks, while those who were unable to do so, such as elderly and sick people, were shot. About 200 people were loaded on each truck. 4000 Jews were expelled to Dzialdowo camp during this 21st of February 1941. The remaining Jews, including "Judenrat" members who were held responsible for the presence of the deportees at the concentration point, were ordered to return home.

The second and last deportation took place on March 1st, 1941. A day before, all the "Judenrat" members were arrested. The second deportation followed the pattern of the first one. The expelled reached Dzialdowo in 4 hours time, making their way through villages and townships, where gentiles threw bread and sausages into their trucks.

About 7000 Jews arrived at Dzialdowo, where they were accommodated in dirty huts, which had been emptied of their former prisoners. The Germans continued looting clothes, shoes and personal belongings. Every day a transport of 1,000 people was sent from the camp, arriving at the railway station barefoot and half-naked.

Plotzk became "Judenrein".

The author quotes the Historian Dr. Ringelblum, who had written in connection with the deportation of Jews from ancient communities like Kalish and Plotzk:

"There was no period in their 800-year history, when Jews were not living there".

Jews mentioned in this chapter (partial list, translated from the Hebrew part):

[Pages 73-74]

Plotzk Refugees in Exile

The majority of the expelled Plotzk Jews was sent to Bodzentyn, in the Kielce region. Another transport arrived on March 11th at Tomaszow Mazowiecki wherefrom the refugees were sent to nearby townships; a third transport was directed to Kielce and from there to three other localities.

About 1500 Plotzk Jews, mostly of the poorer classes were concentrated at Bodzentyn, where they arrived without clothes, shoes or money. The local Kehila organized a kitchen for them which prepared every day about 1500 meals and distributed bread rations of 150-200 gram per person, free of charge.

A committee of Plotzk refugees was organized in Bodzentyn and an appeal was sent to Warsaw, asking for help. A letter of May 5th describes the position of the refugees. Epidemic diseases had caused many deaths. "We had to bury 100 of our brethren" communicated another letter. Mortality was high. People wore rags, were hungry and were covered with wounds. About 800 refugees arrived by train at Chmielnik. The Jews of that township, who were still unmolested, could not believe the horror stories they heard from the refugees. Some of them found hard work there as wood-cutters. Their committee received small sums of money from Plotzk refugees in Warsaw and used them for constructive help. In April 1941 a ghetto was instituted in Chmielnik, from which the people were later on, in October 1942, sent to Treblinka.

Another group numbering 700, was sent to Suchedniow, where they remained under similar conditions until September 22, 1942, when they were deported to Treblinka.

Smaller transports of Jews from Plotzk arrived at Wierzbnik (about 300 refugees), at Starachowice, Daleszyce, Zarki, Drzewica and other places. Everywhere conditions were unbearable. Lack of food, lack of sanitation, hopelessness. Many died of epidemic diseases since it was impossible to obtain medical aid. Initially efforts were made to organize some food supplies or to raise funds but later on all efforts proved futile as the majority of Plotzk refugees were sent from all these places to Treblinka and the rest of them to other death camps. A few escaped during deportation but were killed later on. At the final conclusion of the war only a handful survived.

Jews mentioned in this chapter (partial list, translated from the Hebrew part):

[Page 74]

Acts of Resistance

In spite of the unbearable conditions under which the Plotzk Jews were forced to live, they never lost their hopes of survival. In the early stages they tried to take advantage of commercial connections with Christian neighbors in order to obtain foodstuffs. There are some sources indicating that a group of Jewish women used to smuggle food into the hands of those doomed to be deported to death. The Committee of Plotzk Jews in Warsaw succeeded a number of times to send money and food to their native town. Even cultural and education activities were still carried out in town until the deportation.

After the German authorities closed the synagogues, Jews continued to organize illegal services in private homes. Some orthodox people who were about to be deported, sewed their prayer shawls into their coats, as they wanted "to die as Jews", and refused to eat non-kosher food. One man took a scroll of the Law with him and paid with his life for refusing to be separated from it. At a public execution of 25 Jews at Imielnica one of those about to die called on the survivors to take revenge. But above all Jews from Plotzk took a very active part in the heroic Treblinka uprising.

A Plotzk Jew called Adolf, who worked before the war as Inspector of the bus route Warsaw – Plotzk, one day threw a hand-grenade on the Ukrainians who brought a transport of Jews from Warsaw and killed many of them. He found his death in the shooting which followed. A porter, called Kozibrodski, whom the Germans at Treblinka employed at collecting jewels from the doomed to death, was instrumental in providing means for obtaining clandestine arms. Some Plotzk Jews helped Captain Galewski, who was in charge of the prisoners, in the organization of the uprising, which took place on August 2nd, 1943. Several of the Jewish prisoners from Plotzk joined the heroes who overpowered the Ukrainian guards. One of them, Rudek Lubraniecki, caused a number of casualties among them and blew up a petrol station. Another group entered the arms-depot, took out rifles and distributed them among 200 people. Others attacked the Germans with axes, hoes, etc. Gas chambers were set on fire. A few escaped but many were killed by German reinforcements, who were rushed to the camp to crush the revolt.

The last part of this chapter enumerates some deeds of individual heroism, shown by Plotzk Jews wherever they were, as for example, Moshe Bahir (Szklarek), who participated in the heroic uprising in the Sobibor death-camp.

[Pages 73-74]

Plotzk after the Holocaust

The destruction of the ancient Jewish community of Plotzk was complete. Only a negligible number of Jews survived, those who had managed to get "Aryan" papers or had found shelter in forests or in hiding places. These survivors came back to their former hometown in May-June 1945 and were joined later by those who had escaped to Russia at the beginning of the war. Altogether 300 people (out of 9000 before the Nazi invasion) returned. The whole Jewish quarter was demolished, while the rest of town remained intact. The Germans destroyed the interior of the Great Synagogue and looted all its ornaments. The tombstones of the Jewish cemetery were removed and the cemetery was converted into a pasture. Only the quotation from the prophet Ezekiel "Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways for why will ye die, o House of Israel" remained inscribed on the gatepost.

The survivors organized a committee, which tried with all its means to restore Jewish life to town. The first task was to find work for the survivors. The Central Jewish Committee in Warsaw allocated some sums from which more than 20 workshops (tailors, furriers, glaziers etc.) were set up. The new Polish authorities showed the survivors sympathy and readiness to help. In 1946-1947 the Committee established an orphanage, a club, a library, a dramatic circle etc. A monument, planned by the architect Perlmuter, was erected in honor of the Plotzk Jewish War Victims.

But in spite of all these efforts, and especially those of A. Blei, who was most active in restoring Jewish life, the few survivors did not find it possible to remain in their native town. Some cases of renewed anti-Semitism, even of blood libel occurred. Townspeople spread rumors that the Jews had killed a Christian boy for ritual purposes. The notorious Kielce pogrom occurred in that period. And though the authorities protected the Jews in general against onslaughts, a feeling prevailed among the Plotzk Jewish survivors that there was no place for them even in the new Poland. The "exodus" began in 1947. Some immigrated to Western countries, but the majority joined their brethren in Israel.

Only 98 Jews lived in Plotzk in October 1947. In 1959 their number had decreased to 3.

The old Chairman of the Committee who had devoted his last years to the restoration of Jewish life in Plotzk, died there without attaining this goal. Even the monument to the dead – according to witnesses – is in a stage of disintegration, as there is nobody to take care of it…

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