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[Page 490]

The Tzadik of Wolnica
(A Hassidic story from Przemyśl)

Professor Dr. Shmuel Hugo Bergman of Jerusalem

Written at the time of the First World War, when the important professor served in the Przemyśl Infantry Regiment Number 10 as a reserve officer, and heard many Hassidic stories from his “milliner,” the Przemyśl Jew Yitzchak Frankel. The city of Przemyśl and many of its Zionist intelligentsia who spent time at the Agudat Herzl academic union had the opportunity to get to know Professor Bergman during the summer of 1912, when he came to the city for exercises. From Przemyśl, Professor Bergman was sent to the front. Many Jewish soldiers from his regiment later told stories of his heroism. This translation comes from Dr. Yitzchak Mann, and was published in “Der Przemyśl Yid” weekly, number 17, from June 6, 1919. The article appeared earlier in German in the “Zelbstuer” of Prague, and later in the “Vienna Jewish Newspaper.” We include the article here with a few minor changes.

In every generation, 36 hidden Tzadikim live, by whose merit the world exists. They are called lamed–vovniks[1]. They were simple, coarse in their behavior, and nobody understands how important their lives are to the world – for if any person understands the secret as to why they have been sent into the world, they must pass away from the world.

The following story took place with one of the hidden lomed–vovniks who lived in Wolnica, not far from Przemyśl as a simple wire tier (dritsher)[a].

The Dynower of blessed memory was alive in those days, and his energy and powers and deeds earned him recognition from afar. A Jewess of Przemyśl who was childless, may it not occur to us, came to Dynów to request a blessing for children from the rabbi. The rabbi responded that he does not have the power to remove the curse, may Heaven save us, that hangs over her. She has only one recourse: to go to Wolnica and ask Meir the Dritsher.

It was the eve of the Sabbath, prior to candle lighting. The Jewess arrived in Wolnica and asked for the location of the house of the Dritsher. A Jew who was dressed up as an old–time farmer with a grey caftan, opened the door for her. This was Meir the hidden one, the Dritsher. She was afraid of presenting her request to him immediately, so she only asked if she could stay over for the Sabbath. She was a stranger who was here by coincidence, and the Sabbath suddenly was about to arrive. Meir responded that she could indeed stay, but he could not give her any good, Sabbath style foods. The only Sabbath meal that he had was – a kasha soup.

That Friday night was conducted differently than was the custom in every Jewish house. The Przemyśl Jewess did not see any candle lighting and did not hear any Kiddush. On the other hand, the simple kasha soup that she was served tasted of such a sweetness, the likes of which she had never tasted at a Sabbath meal for her entire life…

The next morning, she saw how the Dritsher left his house with wire and his work implements, as if it were a simple weekday (of course, nobody could say whether he really worked).

When the Dritsher came home at night, the Jewess grabbed her heart and made her request, “Reb Meir–Leben,” she began. However, the Dritsher

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slapped her in anger and did not let her speak further. He was no rabbi, but rather a simple tradesman. Then the Jewess told him that the Dynower sent her to him and said that Meir's power over the demons and spirits is greater than his, and only he himself can remove the curse from her life… “If it is so that the Dynower sent you to me, then I will fulfil your request. However, you must summon all your strength, for you will witness such things that a human ear cannot hear. Cover your ears and come along…”

He then went with her far into a forest. Suddenly, she heard the shrieking of wild voices engaged in a terrible battle. Swords clanged and weapons sliced through the air. This must have been terrifying, large armies who had gathered together. Even higher than the clanging of weapons and the wild noise of the voices, the commanding voice of Meir the Dritsher resonated, as he commanded the entire host of demons. His command was heard, and everything went quiet. He arranged the rows of those gathered and counted the camps. One did not come (this was the devil who waged war against the Przemyśl Jewess and did not let her have a live child). With anger, Meir issued a command that the missing one must be brought here immediately. He came. The Jewess was overcome. She removed the kerchief from her eyes and saw that the devil was a limping midget…

“You are the one,” shouted Meir to the midget, “who has cursed the life of this Jewess. What is her sin and what is her iniquity?”

The midget then told him a story. One night, he passed by the house of the Przemyśler Jewess as she was pouring out a slop pail and, contrary to the old Jewish custom and command, forgot to warn the demons with the customary words, “Watch out!” He was injured because of this and remained handicapped until this day. From that time, he nurtured a hatred toward the Jewess…

Meir commanded him to forgive the Jewess. At first he refused, but finally he had to submit to the power of the Dritsher. He forgave the Jewess and promised her a child and a grandchild. He did not have the energy to say any more…

Thus it was! The Jewess later gave birth to a child, and in time a grandchild entered the world – and then the family died out. One relative still lives in Przemyśl. His name is Shalom.

Meir the Dritsher passed away from the world that very night…

Translator's Footnote

  1. Lamed Vov is 36. Back

Coordinator's Footnote

  1. Druciarz in Polish Back


[Page 492]

The Hidden Tzadik
Rabbi Yitzchak Eizik Shochet

From the book “Emunat Tzadikim” containing 200 Hassidic stories. Published by Szuldberg and Partners, Warsaw, 1900.

The rabbi and hidden Tzadik Rabbi Yitzchak Eizik the shochet, from the village of E;urawica, not far from Przemyśl, Galicia, authored the books: “Otiot DeRabbi Yitzchak”; “Raza Beheimna”; and “Yesod Yitzchak”. In these books, he disclosed his holy deeds that no person knew about. Many people regarded him as a boor and a crazy person, Heaven forbid.

Once a young man came to him and requested that he teach him the laws of ritual slaughter. He responded that he does not want to do so. The young man asked him why not. Rabbi Yitzchak Eizik took him outside and smacked him on the face with his hand. The young man saw that a man was standing on the roof with a knife in his hand, slaughtering himself. Blood was flowing from him. As soon as he blood stopped oozing, he fell to the ground – and then this scene repeated itself. “Such it is,” said Rabbi Yitzchak Eizik to the young man. “He was a shochet during his lifetime, and after he died this is his punishment, for he was not fitting to be a shochet. He had been a young man in Przemyśl who had studied to be a shochet. Since he was a fine young man, he warned him not to display his holiness to anyone…”

When the hour of his death was at hand, Reb Yitzchak Eizik sent his holy wife to Przemyśl to tell the Chevra Kadisha [Burial Society] that her husband was about to die, Heaven protect us, and that several Chevra Kadisha attendants should come to stand by at the time of the departure of the soul and make the preparations to bring him to the city for burial.

She set out to Przemyśl on foot. The attendants came to the village from Przemyśl and entered her house. Reb Yitzchak Eizik could not be found there. They asked, “Where is your husband?” She responded that her husband went out and will probably be returning shortly. “He sent me only to quickly inform you that his end is approaching.” The attendants thought maliciously of her, stating that both she and her husband are crazy. “Did you not tell us that your husband sent you to fetch attendants for he was about to die – and at the end we see he is healthy. So for what reason did you bother us for nothing?” As they were talking to her, her holy husband entered, holding a bit of straw in his hands. His face appeared like a burning torch, invoking great terror. He said to the attendants:

“Sirs! Listen, my end has come. Throughout my entire life, I was hidden from people. Now it is my request that immediately after my death, you send notice that people should come with paper and ink, and transcribe my writings which

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lie in my crate so that they can be published. The transcribing of the writings will take so long, and I will be lying on the ground the entire time. Then, they will dress me in shrouds…”

He said nothing more, but he placed on the ground the bit of straw that was in his hands, and lay down on the straw. Then his lips began to tremble and his face shone like a burning torch. The Tzadik then immediately departed from the world.

A notice was then sent to the city. The entire city traveled together, taking paper and ink. Almost a hundred scholars began to transcribe his writings while he was still lying on the ground. He had told them that they should stop writing when they see a change in his face. His face changed, and the crate in which his writings lay was empty. They stopped transcribing and administered his last rights as was appropriate for him. They eulogized him effusively…


[Page 494]

Organization of Przemyslers in Israel

by Y. A.

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The Organization of Przemyśl Natives in Israel was established in 1944, when the terrible news about the destruction of the city reached us. Our first task was to provide help and support for the survivors. To that end, three large crates filled with clothing, shoes, and other items were sent.

Later, when the aliya of Przemyśl Jews to Israel strengthened, the new immigrants were given help by extending interest free loans. A charitable fund was set up for that purpose. It is still active to this day, even though needy immigrants from our city are no longer arriving. The organization continues the fine tradition of Maos Chittin [support for Passover needs] and other means of assistance for the needy. The Przemyśl organizations in the United States help in that area.

On the anniversary of the liquidation of the Przemyśl ghetto, we organize a memorial ceremony in Tel Aviv every year for the martyrs of our city. The organization is also publishing the Yizkor Book to perpetuate the destroyed Jewish community of Przemyśl.

 

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Presidium of commemoration meeting in Tel Aviv, 1962

From left: Dr. M. Mieser–Reif, Dr. B. Weintraub, H. Trau, M. Baer, Dr. Bloch, Dr. D. Nitzani

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The center of our organization is located in Tel Aviv. There is a chapter in Haifa. An elected committee of 20 members heads the organization.

There number of Jews from Przemyśl in Israel is estimated at up to 2,000. These include pioneers, veterans and new immigrants, spread throughout the entire country – in the cities, towns, moshavim, and kibbutzim, from Dan to Eilat.

Przemyśl Jews occupy important positions and offices in the Jewish State. Many work in the free professions as doctors, lawyers, engineers, opticians, and teachers in public schools and middle schools. In the army, there are officers and sub–officers, many of whom have excelled in the battlefields of the War of Independence and the Sinai Campaign, and for their service in the Haganah. Our fellow natives occupy honorable positions in the municipalities, in executive of the Histadrut, in the police force, in the political parties, in the arts, in industry, in banking and business.

In order to shed light on all angles of the activity of the Organization of Przemyśl Natives in Israel, I will cite long passages of a memorial that was sent to our fellow natives in Israel in 1959, as follows:

“The number of Przemyślers in the Land of Israel was already significantly large before the Second World War, but they did not feel the need to found an organization. It was first in 1944, when the Germans were driven out of Przemyśl, that information about the destruction of Poland in general and of Przemyśl in particular, we understood that there was a need to organize urgent assistance for the surviving Jews of the city. We established contact with a Jewish committee in Przemyśl and sent our help for our needy brethren.

Before the establishment of the state, survivors from Przemyśl began to come to the Land, mainly in an illegal fashion. In those times, all the means to absorb the immigrants were not in place – so the landsmanschaften had the task of providing help for the new arrivals. We did this with our meager power and means. We also helped intervene with the Sochnut [Jewish Agency], helped them find a place to live, helped them find employment, and gave interest free loans from our loan fund.

During the course of the work, it became clear that, aside from the assistance activity, the Przemyśl Jews in the Land and abroad were connected to their old home, and we were obligated to perpetuate the experiences of those who bore witness to the extermination of the vibrant Jewish community of Przemyśl, a major Jewish city. The annual memorials of the Przemyślers in Israel brought our fellow natives together from all corners of the country. The organization was active, and served as an address for the Przemyślers in Israel as well as throughout the entire world.

Aliya from Poland was renewed in the last few years. Now, it is not terrified people who were still affected by the experiences of the occupations years who were arriving, but rather people who were seeking a home. Even though their material situation

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was not the weakest, they were offered help and advice from the organization – first and foremost with constructive loans. They were given interest free loans for a period of three years. Aside from this, we intervened with the various offices for the benefit of the new arrivals from Przemyśl.

Of course, we could not foresee the various cases of need that might affect our fellow natives, and in such cases, help was never denied. There were also old, sick, and unemployed people. The fine strategy of offering assistance in a private manner was upheld, especially prior to Passover. Of course, it is impossible to satisfy all the needs, for we are a poor organization.

A special committee was set up to collect money for our book. Twenty members, divided into four groups, performed the work voluntarily, without payment. There was not even one paid functionary.”

*

Our organization maintains constant contact with the Przemyśl organizations in the United States, Argentina, Belgium, and France. There are a significant number of Przemyślers in those countries, who are bound to Israel with thousands of threads.

From the beginning until the present, the activists of our organization include Dr. Miriam Mieses–Reif, Dr. Tzvi Rubinfeld, Binyamin Saltz, Hertz Antman, Mina Baba, Sara Burstein, Tzila Brodner, Bela Bauman, Ida Gelstein, Elimelech Metzger, Shlomo Schop, Regina Schop, Yechezkel Feuer, Junia Federbaum, Clara Pekelman, Aryeh Kawe, Moshe Kupferberg, Emil Kastner, Yisrael Schmidt. From Haifa: Chanoch Hand, Eng. Moshe Wirth, Dr. Binyamin Weintraub. The leaders of the charitable fund are Nachum Poller, Asher Rosenfeld, Mrs. Sima Pe'er.

The following are members of the editorial committee of the Book of Przemyśl: Dr. Dov Nitzani, Eng. Yosef Altbauer, Dr. Mordechai Schattner, Dr. Eliahu Bloch, Chanoch Trau, Eng. Leopold Getz, Dr. Matityahu Gans, Chanoch Hand, and Shlomo Goldstein of blessed memory.

Let me note here the committee members who have departed from us forever: Dr. Josef Akser, Shlomo Goldstein, Dr. Yosef Grossman, Shmuel Rebhun, Yaakov Krener, Stela Speiser–Landerer.


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Przemyśler Landsmanschaft in New York

Translated by Jerrold Landau

See the article Przemysl Landsmanschaften in New York

 

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Commemoration meeting of former Przemyśl Jewish citizens in New York, 1946

 

[Page 501]

The Destruction of Przemyśl

by Dr. M. Schattner[1]

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

The Beginning

A review of the events in Przemyśl from the years 1939–1945 and the fate of the local Jewish population will show that we suffered the same fate as the other large cities of Poland: the same plan, the same Prussian system, the same cruelty in carrying out the anti–Jewish decrees, aktions, and murders. The Hilterist extermination apparatus operated mercilessly in Przemyśl as well. From the approximately 20,000 Jews of Przemyśl, only about 300 survived…

According to an account of the Jewish Committee in Przemyśl from September 12, 1945, approximately 24,000 Jews in the city itself and the region were murdered by the Germans and their assistants. We know very well about the oppression, blood and tears that hide behind those dry statistics. We also know that, aside from the loss of human feelings during that dark era, there were also displays of bravery and self–sacrifice.

The Jewish tragedy in Przemyśl began on the night of September 8, 1939. As we know, the war broke out on September 1. Nobody believed that the Germans would reach the city so quickly. On September 8, in the middle of the night, information came that the enemy was approaching Przemyśl, and was murdering all the Jewish men along the way. At 2:00 a.m., most of the men already set out on their way eastward. Innumerable Jews with sacks, packs, and suitcases marching in confusion could be seen throughout the night and into the early morning hours. It was a fine autumn day. It was not only Jews, but also Poles and Ukrainians who were worried and wanted to save their belongings, for they were in a bad situation. Nevertheless, they called out to the Jews, “Soon the Germans will come and slaughter you all. This will be your end, in return for what you did to us.” They were very happy about what was coming to the Jews…

The majority of those who fled returned to Przemyśl with the Russians on September 29, 1939. Others went to Romania and Hungary.

The bombardment caused great damage in the city. This continued until September 9. That day was quiet. There was no Polish or German ruling authority in the city for six days. Of course, this was the calm before the storm. The Germans entered Przemyśl on September 15.

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According to information we have from the time, the Germans were reasonable during the first two days. The optimists among the Jews saw the Germans as cultured people, and therefore believed that they need not be feared. Everything would work out as it is supposed to be. During the first days, the Germans took many people to work and then returned them to their homes in the evenings. After a few days, however, Jewish workers began to disappear, at first only a few, and then whole groups.

Within a few days, the Germans removed many Jews from their homes, based on a list. This was supposed to be revenge for the lives of twelve Germans who were allegedly shot by Jews during the first few days of the occupation. Aside from these people, any Jews found on the streets were liable to be taken away. Approximately 600 Jews were killed at that time, roughly half of them refugees from western Poland. All these martyrs were killed in three locations: Lipowica, Prałkowce and Pikulice.

The Germans were in the city for approximately two weeks. At the end, they managed to destroy and burn many more Jewish homes, all the large Beis Midrashes, Scheinbach [synagogue – ed.], the Tempel, and the Great Synagogue.

Two days before the entry of the Russians to the eastern portion of the city, an edict was issued that the Jews must leave Zasanie for the duration of 24 hours. Any Jew who would be found there during the designated period would be shot on the spot. Since the bridge over the San had been destroyed even before the entry of the Germans, the only passage to the eastern side was via the military bridge. From the outset, this was forbidden for civilians, especially for Jews. Despite the bitter experiences of the previous days, the Jews had not learned a lot about the German conduct toward them, and they did not believe that the German military commandant would indeed carry out that edict. They decided to send a delegation to him and to the Polish mayor. No Jew dared to venture out to the street. They decided to delegate this task to Mrs. Brudner, the wife of a physician. She went to the office of Mayor Baldini and requested his help regarding the issue of the deportation. Baldini asked in anger whether the Jews thought that he had no other problems to worry about than this, and refused to intervene with the Germans regarding the deportation. During the conversation, the city Engineer Herr Kotek, who accompanied Mrs. Brudner, apologized for the conduct of the mayor. After receiving such an answer, she decided to go to the German military commandant directly. She was received properly there. He told her that he knows nothing about the edict, and the Jews could remain in their place without any worry.

Hearing such a response, the Jews decided to leave Zasanie despite the assurances of the commandant. They set out on their way for the entire morning – most by foot, through the San, carrying their few belongings on their heads. Very few managed to obtain a horse and wagon to transport the children. The Poles stood on the bank and rejoiced as they watched the “exodus” of the Jews…

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The destroyed bridge, 1939. Date on photo is September 14, 1939

 

The Russians in Przemyśl

The Jews breathed easier on September 28, 1939. The Russians entered, along with a large number of Jews who had fled when the Germans invaded. We were overcome with enthusiasm. Everyone thought that as far as Przemyśl was concerned, the war was over. There would be a new regime, but there would be peace! The endless fear–the fear of life, was gone. On the first day, a Russian band went out to the streets and played the well–known song “Katyusha,” which the Jews considered to be a Jewish song. The joy was great.

Gradually, the Russians began to impose their way of life in the town. The Jews believed that nothing would really change from the way things were before the war. For example, on the third day after the Russians' entrance, the Jewish intelligentsia of the town held a memorial gathering in the club on Mickiewicza street for those who were murdered by the Germans. The Jews had the impression that a normal life would ensue. However, two days later the Russian military rule announced that ownership of the club halls had been transferred to the workers.

With the entry of the Russians to Przemyśl, all political activity by the Jews ceased out of fear of reprisals. Likewise, the Jewish community's institutions ceased to operate, and their assets were nationalized. All Zionist parties ceased to exist, because the Russians regarded Zionism in all its forms as counter–revolutionary. Most of the political activists left Przemyśl as they feared a summons to the NKVD, and they knew what awaited them there. Many people who were detained by the NKVD were undoubtedly

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victims of denunciation by the old Communist activists of Przemyśl. The Bund also suspended its activities. The clubs of all the political parties, along with all their assets, were nationalized. This was also the fate of the Jewish social institutions, such as the orphanage, the Jewish hospital, the academic self–help (Samopomoc), Gmilut Hassadim[a],Yad Harutzim, Bnai Brith, and all other social and philanthropic institutions.

The same also happened with the cultural–educational institutions. The private Jewish middle school turned into an eleven–grade school with Yiddish as the language of instruction. The scientific library, which was the largest library in Przemyśl with 30,000 books, also terminated its activity. In theory, the library was nationalized, but in fact most of its books were stolen.

During the time of Soviet rule in the city, Jewish life became completely impoverished. All the factories and shops, only ten percent of which were owned by non–Jews, were nationalized, and all raw materials and merchandise were seized by the regime. All privately owned houses were nationalized by the city administration, which collected the rent.

Tradesmen were forced to liquidate their workplaces and “voluntarily” enter cooperatives (artels). All diplomas held by lawyers were evaluated and only very few of them were given a license to practice their profession. (Some 100 lawyers were forced to become clerks or take on other professions.) The work of private physicians was reduced, and they were forced to work in hospitals or clinics (polyclinics) for long periods, sometimes for 24 hours straight.

In the meantime, unemployment became prevalent. Those who worked in cooperatives or government offices were given low wages which did not suffice for daily needs. As a result, many had to sell any belongings they could.

In April and May 1940, 7,000 Jews were deported from Przemyśl to Asian Russia, among them refugees from western Poland, a group of political activists, former Polish officers and several wealthy people who owned houses. All these were pronounced by the Russians as public menaces to society.

At the same time, the Russians began to issue passports. Several thousand residents were given passports containing a stipulation which allowed them to reside only within 7 to 100 kilometers from a city. Through this, many families where left homeless, and were forced to wander from one place to another. This act caused complete impoverishment, because it was impossible to find residencies in the new places.

They began to confiscate apartments and rooms in large apartments with furniture, which were transferred to high ranking army personnel or bureaucrats.

Some political party activists were imprisoned, and after brief trials were given sentences of 10 to 15 years in the labor camps deep in Russia. In this manner, [Chaim] Elias from the Hitahadut and Fischel [Efraim vel Fiszel] Babad from Beitar were imprisoned. They were both sent to Siberia. Typical of the trials of that time was that people who had escaped from western

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Poland and had not been included in the large expulsion of 1940 were arrested as German spies and imprisoned in the Przemyśl jail. The jail could hold approximately 100 people, but at that time held 1,500 inmates, mainly from among the refugees.

That is the history of Przemyśl Jews during the Russian period, from September 28, 1939 until June 21, 1941. These were relatively quiet times, despite the deportations and the perpetual fear of the NKVD. It was possible for a person and his family to maintain a normal life if they were not like pepper in the eyes of the old Communists. It should be noted that most of the people who were deported during the Russian rule ended up being the Holocaust survivors of Przemyśl.

 

The Germans Return

The outbreak of the German–Soviet war was a surprise for everyone, including for the Russians. The Russians fled in their pajamas in the middle of the night.

At roughly 2:00 a.m., the Germans began bombing the city. Since it was right on the border, they entered that very afternoon (June 21, 1941). After the Russians had recovered and staged a counterattack, the Germans retreated, sustaining severe losses, and a week–long, face–to–face battle over the city began. During this intermission, all the Russian civilians and soldiers managed to escape. Many Jews who were needed by the Russians escaped with them. On June 28, 1941 the Germans entered city, this time for four years.

During the battles, the population hid in their cellars. The city was empty when the Germans entered. The Germans were already familiar with the Jewish streets, so they went from house to house and shouted orders at the Jews: “Juden raus!” – meaning, that they should come out of their houses. They wanted to know how many Jews were in the city.

When the Germans entered, there were some 17,000 people in Przemyśl. Various rumors spread regarding the Germans' fair attitude and exemplary behavior towards the Jews. When they were taken out to work, after a physical examination, and they returned home in the evening, the Jewish optimism grew…

The Germans established a Judenrat comprised of the honorable Jews of the city, led by Dr. Susswein, Dr. Haas, and Dr. Duldig. The Judenrat served as a liaison with the German command. The Germans demanded funds and equipment for the army from the Jews. The Gestapo had not yet arrived in the city. With the arrival of the Gestapo, they immediately ordered the Jews to wear a Magen David, which began the era of discrimination and separation. Within a few days, posters were posted describing Jews as fleas, germs and poisonous snakes. Things became sharper with each day. Gentiles were called to distance themselves from their Jewish neighbors. This psychological warfare ultimately forced Jews to abandon their houses in non–Jewish areas and to move to Garbarze, the place the Germans had marked off as a future Jewish quarter.

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The Germans set up a labor office (“Arbeitsamt”) under German management, headed by a Ukrainian senior official. Jewish clerks were obliged to supply workers for any kind of menial labor in and outside of the city.

All Jews were required to obtain a work card. The office for Jews was located on the ground floor, and on the second and third floor was the office for non–Jewish laborers. If a German found a Jew there, he would be arrested and severely beaten.

All Jews were registered in the Jewish labor office, managed by Dr. Tennenbaum. Those who felt weak had to undergo a medical examination, and only handicapped people or physicians were excused from forced labor. The doctors did all they could to assist those who were unfit for hard labor. These workers were organized into groups managed by “Volksdeutsche,” who were usually sadists who made the workers' lives miserable. Thus, for example, the Jewish students of the gimnazja[b] were forced to clean the streets, pile the garbage onto carts and pull them through the streets, while their gentile friends strolled through the very same streets. The Germans' intention was not only the work, but mainly to emotionally wear down the Jews and publicly humiliate them.

The Jewish doctors, who enjoyed the same privileges that all doctors had during the first four months, were ordered not to treat Aryan patients,

 

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Bombarded houses on Jagiellońska Street, 1941

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Debris clearing of the market–square by Jewish forced laborers

 

under threat of the death penalty if they broke the law. Their private practices were thereby effectively terminated.

Gradually, Jewish life returned to normal. People who had been unable to work in business during the Russian period, now opened small shops in the Jewish quarter, aside from those that were opened by the Judenrat and were allocated rations of food from the Germans. They hoped that the Germans would not disturb them, but their hope was false. The Germans began to close their shops or place them under German supervision.

 

The First Decrees and Murders

With time, the Jews were ordered not to shop at the market except during specific times, from dawn until 8:00 and in the evening from 6:00, by which time it was impossible to obtain anything at the market.

The Germans and Volksdeutschen came daily to the more affluent Jewish homes with various “orders”, and removed the furniture, pianos, rugs, silverware, and chinaware. The “decent ones” offered to buy the items. The Jews would sell their belongings because they knew that they would be forced to hand over everything with no compensation if they did not agree to the proposed price. But, in general,

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there was still some semblance of order. The German response to any kind of “transgression” by a Jew was extremely severe, however. For example, for wearing a Magen David on the left arm instead of the right, or visiting the market during prohibited hours, Jews would be severely beaten, imprisoned, etc.

At first some Jews who had been imprisoned were released, but, after a short while, there were no more releases. According to our information, these prisoners were sent to the central prison and murdered there.

At the beginning of June,1942, all 45 Jewish women who were concentrated in two houses in Zasanie were murdered.

The apostates, including many members of the intelligentsia such as Dr. Rawicz, young Dr. Grabscheid, and Dr. Irgang, were all killed roughly one month after the first aktion. They were very happy before the aktion, since they were allowed to remove the Magen David from their arms, and walk freely through the streets. This allowance was made due to the efforts of the Polish Bishop.

As noted, a week after the Germans entered town, the Judenrat was established, headed by Dr. Ignatz Duldig. He suggested the Judenrat be comprised of about twenty members, including rabbis, doctors, lawyers, industrialists and so forth. At the first meeting, Dr. Duldig announced that the sole function of the Judenrat was to implement all orders issued by the Gestapo. The composition was as follows: president: Dr. Duldig; deputies: Dr. Rebhun, Dr. Kronberg; labor office: Neubort; legal office: Dr. Morgensztern; religious: Rabbi Hister; health: Dr. Wilczer; business and work office: Herman Goldman; school committee: Rosenfeld; police: Trau; dwelling office: Dr. Finkelsztejn. The committee members were held responsible for any transgression committed by a Jew.

Everything was conducted “in accordance with the law” until July 1942. Aside from the confiscation of the best dwellings and the finest furniture of the Jews, the suffering of the Jews was not that great.

On a winter morning on December 26, 1941, Schupo officers suddenly appeared, and removed any furs of Jewish passers–by. Even those who only had a fur collar had it ripped off from their coat. They also removed winter boots from peoples' feet, mostly women, and left them barefoot on the streets in the harsh cold. At the same time, Schupo officers and German citizens, together with Polish policemen, raided all Jewish houses and removed furs, clothing and fine fabrics. The Jews were indifferent to this pillage and took comfort in the fact that nothing more severe had occurred.

Occasionally, Ukrainians or Poles who “privately” abused Jews were severely punished. Therefore, at least for temporarily, they did not threaten the Jews with any harm.

Regarding the economic situation during those times, Jews made a living from trades (tailoring, shoemaking, etc.). Others carried on trade among themselves and even sometimes with gentiles, despite the severe prohibition. Others survived by bartering various possessions with the Poles and Ukrainians in return for food.

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The impoverishment that had begun during Russian times became insufferable. Few Jews had any money or valuables left. Often, the Judenrat forced these remaining few to give them donations for their needs.

 

The Gestapo Demands a Thousand Youths

At the end of June and the beginning of July 1942, more and more rumors spread of the murder of Jews in Tarnów, Rzeszów, and other places. It was difficult to confirm these persistent rumors, and the Judenrat members tried to find out from the Gestapo whether they were true. The Gestapo cynically admitted that they were absolutely true and promised to prevent this harsh fate from befalling the Jews of Przemyśl if they “behaved well.” When asked by the Judenrat how they could do this, they were told by Bennewitz, the Gestapo boss, that if the Judenrat provided him with 1,000 young people who were capable of working at the Janowska Camp in Lemberg (Lwow), the Jews of Przemyśl Jews would be safe. After a lengthy deliberation, the demand was accepted and a committee was chosen, comprised of Moshe Gottfried, Dr. Aberdam, Dr. Tennenbaum, Dr. Finkelstein and others.

The list was drawn up according to the lists maintained by the labor office, whose manager for the Jewish section was Dr. Tennenbaum. There was not much attention paid to age or health, but they did try to consider the rights and obligations of the people, such as whether they were an only child, or they had an illness that might be exacerbated by hard physical labor. According to the rumors, which cannot be confirmed to this day, the committee selected an additional 200 people as reserves who could go to work if needed. There were also rumors of bribery and discrimination against those who were unable to pay.

The day came when the 1,000 young people were to be transported to Lemberg – June 18, 1942[i]. The youngsters were placed under heavy guard by the Jewish police. But on that same day, a large number of Gestapo and Schupo members arrived in the Jewish quarter, organized the transport with great order, and brought the people to the train. While the transport was being arranged, some family members of the youngsters who came to bid them farewell, intending to return home afterwards, were shot by the Gestapo under the malicious pretext that they were actually transport members trying to escape. There were many casualties on that day. The streets of the ghetto were red with blood – a foreshadowing of things to come.

In addition to the demand for 1,000 people, the Gestapo also demanded a sum of money. The Judenrat had no choice but to comply. The Jews, therefore, gave not only blood, but also gold and silver, to free themselves of greater troubles[ii]. All these hopes were in vain. After a short while the ghetto was closed, and the first aktion ensued.

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In the Closed Ghetto

At the beginning of June, 1942, it was already clear that the ghetto would be closed off in the coming days, but its borders had not yet been demarcated. On July10, it became evident that the border of the ghetto would be along Jagiellońska street, and the entire Mnisza Street – that is the entire block bounded by Mnisza Street. This section was joined to the ghetto by means of openings in the walls of the houses which lead to the viaduct and from there to Garbarze. When the plan was made public, Jews from all over town began to stream into this ghetto area. They saw it as a safe haven, because it had an opening to the Aryan section of town. Relatives asked their relatives, and friends asked their friends to take them in. In this way, some 2,000 people and their meager belongings became concentrated in a relatively small area (ten buildings). On July 14, announcements of the official closing of the ghetto on July 15 were posted. These announcements stated that any Jew found without a special permit outside the ghetto, could expect a severe punishment, even death. Any non–Jew who sheltered a Jew in their house would be similarly punished.

The ghetto was closed on July 15.

Interestingly, from the moment the ghetto was closed, the Jews felt that they had more freedom, even though they were caged in. There were two reasons for this: first, they had previously been living in hostile surroundings and second, until then, any German could enter their house at any moment. In the preceding period, many criminal elements from Germany had arrived in town, and they would go into Jewish houses and take what they wanted. From then on, Poles, Ukrainians, and Germans were not allowed to enter there.

When the ghetto was closed, people began settling into their new apartments as best they could. First and foremost, they needed to find ways to make a living. Some astute people opened up small stores in their houses, apart from the official Judenrat stores, in which you could buy permitted groceries and other articles intended for daily consumption. The sale of meat was strictly prohibited. Jews who ate meat were liable to the death sentence. Provisions were obtained by the Judenrat, who were given rations by the Germans, as well as through smuggling from the Aryan side. Many housewives earned their living by baking cakes. These cakes were much sought after in the stores, because for many it was the only food they ever had. The Judenrat established a kitchen where soup and coffee were distributed twice daily.

As for religious life, only one small synagogue remained open on Mnisza street, where the residents of the Mnisza block of the ghetto congregated. In addition, several kloizes were opened in several places on Garbarze, particularly on Czarnieckiego street, in which the worshippers congregated while taking great precautions. The social and cultural life was reduced to walking through the streets, as this was the only way to find out what was new in the town and in the world. There was also an underground radio transmission.

After a week of quiet in the closed ghetto, rumors spread regarding an aktion

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in the near future, and of the need to sign up for work for the Germans. There were various jobs, including working for the Baudienst, Wehrmacht, Heizer[iii] and others. Since the demand for work was far greater than the number of available jobs, acceptance to a job was dependent on bribery or other forms of nepotism.

On July 26, 1942, the Gestapo notified the Judenrat that indeed on the 27th of July there would be an aktion which would include most of the ghetto residents. Those who were employed in essential positions and a few others who would be given a Gestapo stamp on their work cards, would not be deported. The tension was high, as there was no knowledge of what form the aktion would take, although they had tasted such when the 1,000 youths had been sent to Lemberg. Everyone tried to find an appropriate job through a variety of methods.

On July 24, the Judenrat collected all the work cards and handed them over to the Gestapo. On the 26th, those cards which had been marked with a Gestapo stamp were returned. That afternoon, crowds gathered in front of the Judenrat office and waited to hear their fate. Those who were not present there cannot imagine the terrible scene: shouting, wailing which pierced the heavens, fainting, assaults on Judenrat employees. All was in vain. Dr. Duldig brought 5,000 cards with work stamps – he could obtain no more from the Gestapo. Since the ghetto housed 22,000 Jews (17,000 who had lived there when the Germans entered were joined by some 5,000 from the surrounding area, including Bircza, Krzywcza, Niżankowice, Dynów, etc.) – 17,000 had been sentenced to deportation.

While the cards were being stamped, the Gestapo and Schupo, fully armed as if at war, had surrounded the entire ghetto. No one was allowed to enter or leave the ghetto. That night, no one in the ghetto slept. Intermittent shots could be heard from the borders of the ghetto, and weeping children and adults disturbed the silence within. All night, the Jewish police went from house to house in the ghetto and prepared the deportees for their journey, taking them to the designated place. There were cases where Jewish policemen forcefully dragged their own parents out of their homes to the deportation

 

The Deportation

Early in the morning, posters could be seen on the walls of the ghetto with the following announcement:

  1. Today the Judenaussiedlung (deportation of the Jews) will begin in Przemyśl.
  2. The following people will not be deported: a) those whose work card is stamped with a Gestapo stamp; b) The Judenrat and its employees; c) employees of the hospital, which will remain open at present.
  3. Whoever attempts to evade the deportation will be shot.
  4. Whoever aids a Jew in evading the deportation will be shot.
  5. All Jews living in the Mnisza block and in the ghetto, until Czarnieckiego and Kopernika, must gather at 7:00 a.m. at Iwaszkiewicza Place, from where they will be taken to the train.
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  1. Each deportee may take one package weighing no more than 10 kilograms.
Despite the warnings and punishments, many hid and did not come to the deportation place. But most of them, including entire families with children and the elderly, went out in their best clothes, as if it were a holiday, carrying their belongings wrapped in white sheets on their shoulders. They walked dejectedly, but with the hope that they were only being taken to a working place in the east.

Most of the people gathered on one side of the deportation place. The disabled, elderly and ill people gathered on the other side. Those who could not walk were carried from their homes on stretchers, were taken to a small square in the ghetto and shot. Among these people were Mr. Laub. Dr. Grabscheid, the elderly doctor, whom they tried to lead to this square, knew what would happen to him there and so he tried to protest the order and announced that he was strong enough to travel with the deportees in the eastbound transport. He was then led along with the others in trucks to Grochowce, where he was murdered.

There was one sick woman who came with a daughter in her arms. She was shot, and the child was killed by a Gestapo man, who took her by one leg and smashed her head against the wall.

An interesting episode occurred that morning, as soon as the aktion started, which testified to the poor relations between the Gestapo and the Wehrmacht. When the aktion began, the military commander of the town demanded that the Jews who worked in the Wehrmacht not be deported, even though they did not have Gestapo stamps. The Gestapo refused to comply with this demand, whereupon the Wehrmacht occupied the bridges which connected the two parts of town, prevented the Gestapo from passing through, and even threatened that they would not allow the train transport to go through. Finally, after telephoning Kraków, the Gestapo agreed.

At the height of the aktion, the Judenrat head Dr. Duldig, and his assistant Mr. Rechter, were summoned to the Gestapo. They were murdered there and buried in an unknown location. Then, the Gestapo took their families to the deportation place. After sending the first transport on the train, they shot them there before everyone's eyes.

Despite the warnings and punishments, there were many cases of people who fled the deportation place. Those who hid in insecure hiding places and were found by the Germans were shot. Bodies of men, women and children lay everywhere. After the first train left in the afternoon, the remaining Jews were ordered to collect all the bodies – “to clean up” – and to take them to the cemetery. The bodies were piled up on carts, with blood still flowing…

That was the end of the first day of the first aktion. Some 7,000 Jews were deported that day.

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prz513.jpg
The first row of tombs at the Jewish Cemetery in Przemyśl

 

As has been mentioned, there were still people who believed that they really were just being moved to a different place. One example should suffice to illustrate the refusal of many Jews to believe that such a cruel massacre could occur: six weeks after the first aktion, a Polish railroad worker told of how the Jews were being annihilated at Belzec with electricity, in the so–called bath. The Jews did not believe him, and thought the story had been invented to scare them.

After a three–day intermission, they prepared themselves for the second aktion. People discussed with their friends and relatives what should be taken on the trip. Dr. Henner, for example, discussed with his friends whether to take more than two syringes and a water syringe, for surely there in the east, they had nothing. Old Dr. Blech wondered whether to take more than two pairs of shoes, how many shirts. All the deportees took the journey very seriously.

Immediately after the first transport, the Gestapo issued an order that all the Mnisza block and the ghetto section until Kopernika must be evacuated within an hour. From that block, the frightened people took with them only small items that they could carry, for the passage to the viaduct from the houses lead through small gaps in the walls. All the people of that part of the ghetto left, leaving behind

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all their belongings, which were taken by the Germans. The cleanup work in these abandoned houses was assigned to the Jews who remained.

It should be noted that a large crowd of lower class Polish people gathered, anticipating looting. However, the Germans would not allow this. There were cases of shooting into the crowd which stormed these houses.

The continuation of the first aktion was set for July 31, 1942. The Jewish residents of Czarnieckiego, Kopernika and all neighboring streets were summoned to the deportation place at 2:00 p.m.

It is known that there were no evaders on July 27, and the Germans did not search for any that day. The Jews were punctual and arrived at the deportation place on time. A total of 3,000 people were deported. Once again, there were three days of calm. On August 3, 1942, the final stage of the first aktion was carried out. On this day, all Jews remaining in the ghetto with or without a Gestapo stamp were ordered to gather in the square in front of the Judenrat office at 7:00 a.m., to bring their work cards, and to wait for the arrival of the Gestapo. The Jews came as ordered and waited until the Gestapo head arrived, with the highest ranking Scherner from Kraków[iv]. They inspected the work cards of all those gathered, while other Gestapo and SS officers went from house to house and checked every corner to make sure no one was hiding. They found a few ill people, but these were mostly people who had stamped cards. Those who did not have stamped cards were sent, after being beaten, to the deportation point. After this examination, they were allowed to return home. Those who had no stamp, as well as some of the people with stamps who worked for the Judenrat, were ordered to gather at the deportation place at 3:00 p.m.

Everyone arrived as ordered. A special guard accompanied the radiologist, Dr. Rinde, with his wife and daughter, because a complaint had been filed against him by a Volksdeutche that he had treated Aryan patients. Also present were old Dr. Hass, Kerner, and Rosenfeld, Dr. Schattner, Dr. Oberhard and Dr. Gottdank, they were required by Dr. Wilczer director of the Judenrat's health committee, to stay behind as disinfection workers. The Gestapo did not object, and they were permitted to return home. Salzberg was also taken off the train and allowed to return home.

That was the end of the first aktion. 6,500 people had been deported on the first day, on the second day, 3,000, and on the third day, approximately 3,000. Altogether – 12,500 people.

The day after the aktion was over, the Gestapo demanded a substantial amount of money in return for arranging the transport (the train, and the provisions for the deportees). They also demanded payment for the construction of new barbed wire fences around the borders of the diminished ghetto.

As the third transport of the first aktion was being prepared, some Gestapo and SS people appeared at the hospital, took all the patients out and shot almost all of them to death. Patients who were capable of walking, as well as most of the hospital workers,

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were transported in trucks to the deportation point. During the aktion, from July 27 until August 3, there were many cases of suicides. The families of Dr. Rinde and his wife were first, followed by many others.

After the first aktion, many people waited for signs of life from the deportees. A few postcards did arrive. They were only greetings and notices that everything was alright. It became evident only later that these postcards were given to the deportees by the Gestapo along the way, and they were forced to write whatever the Gestapo dictated.

Slowly, things became calmer. The monetary fine was paid, and for a while the Gestapo had no demands from the Jews who remained. It was the calm before the storm. People started settling in to their new places. As before the aktion, they opened the stores that had been closed, as well as the synagogues and the kloizes. Six weeks after the aktion, the Gestapo announced that it was willing to forgive people who had hid and evaded the aktion, and to give them new stamps so that they could be “legal” in the ghetto. Many people believed these promises and were given stamps on their work cards – not the usual round stamp, but rather an oval stamp. These people were relieved to have been given, ostensibly, a legal status in the ghetto.

However, after a few days the Gestapo announced, via the Judenrat, that people bearing the new stamp must come to a certain place in the ghetto after work. The people arrived, and the Gestapo placed them all in wagons. We learned later that those hundred people were taken to the cemetery and murdered there.

During the liquidation period, all the apostates in town were also killed, after a sudden, quick hunt. They were all captured, taken to the Jewish cemetery and murdered there, despite the promises that had been made to the Polish Bishop.

 

The Second aktion

A month before the second aktion, in the middle of October, it was already common knowledge that the deportees that had been taken away in the first aktion had been killed. The Jews in the ghetto began to work feverishly, preparing a bunker or underground hiding place in almost every house. These underground fortresses were equipped with all the necessary provisions, such as water, food, etc. There was already talk of an impending aktion. The Judenrat denied the rumors, but they recommended that everyone register for the Werkstätte which would soon be opened. This required paying money to the intended director of the German institution, Forster.

Until November 16, 1942, there was no information regarding the new aktion. As has been mentioned, even the Judenrat denied the rumors. On November 17th, it became clear that there would be an aktion. That evening, the ghetto was surrounded by the Gestapo and the Schupo.

This aktion was supposed to liquidate the entire ghetto, There were approximately 9,500 Jews in the ghetto, and they were only going to leave those worked in essential jobs, such as

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Werkstätte, Wehrmacht, Reiser, etc. – a total of 1,500 people. But this time the Jews disrupted the Germans' count.

When the aktion began at dawn on November 18, 1942, all workers gathered in the barracks on Czarnieckiego by order of the Gestapo. Nobody was allowed to enter or leave after 8:00 a.m. The Germans, together with the Jewish police, went from house to house to take out all the Jews to the deportation place. It was a dreary and cold, with a mixture of snow and rain. The people being lead to their slaughter were depressed. Many tried to escape as they were walking to the place, and even from the place itself, but most were killed. Among those killed was Dr. Blech, the young lawyer. There were many casualties that day, including those found in the bunkers.

At the end of the aktion, the Gestapo destroyed the orphanage, which housed 80 children who had remained after the first aktion. In this aktion there was much “demand” for children; they even took the only son of Dr. Rebhun, the head of the Judenrat.

On this day, 3,500 people were brought to the deportation point, and according to the count there was a “deficit” of 4,500 people whom the Germans could not locate.

As they were waiting for the people, an appell (roll–call) was announced in the barracks. When everyone presented themselves, the head of the Gestapo, Bennewitz, came with his “guests” from Kraków, and read from a scroll the names of those gathered. Those whose names were read out stayed in the barracks, and those whose names were not were unceremoniously lead to the deportation point. Among them were Dr. Stopp and his wife. It was later discovered that those who had only registered for work during the final days were not admitted to work, and their fate was sealed.

According to the accounts, there should have been some 4,500 additional Jews in the ghetto who were not included in the count of the workers. The Germans therefore decided two days after the aktion to establish a new ghetto, made up of the people who had remained in the bunkers. Jews did not want to leave the bunkers since they were already familiar with the Germans' tactics. They were given sacred promises, with the German Ehrenwort (“word of honor”). This situation lasted for about a week, until the Judenrat members who could be trusted decided that it was alright to leave the bunkers.

 

Ghetto A and Ghetto B

After the second aktion, the ghetto was divided into two parts: Ghetto A and Ghetto B. Ghetto A was for the workers, and Ghetto B was for the non–workers. Contact between the two ghettos was strictly prohibited.

Ghetto A, which was in fact intended as a future work camp (Zwangsarbeitslager) was made up of the area surrounding Iwaszkiewicza square, and Ghetto B was the front part of the previous ghetto. There were some 800 people in Ghetto A, and in Ghetto B there were approximately 4,000. This number changed frequently, as Jewish people from all over the area streamed into the new ghetto as if it was a safe haven.

Until early February 1943, the ghetto division was informal. With the arrival of SS commander Schwammberger, the camp was given its official title.

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Schwammberger came from Rozwadów after the complete liquidation of that ghetto, along with a few remaining Jews from the Rozwadów Ghetto: Jonas, Wasserman, and others. From among the residents of our ghetto, Teich and Dawidowicz were prepared to help him.

Schwammberger began planning the work in the forced labor camp with the help of his advisors. First, they arranged the Werkstätte: departments were opened for sewing, toy manufacturing and sorting out the clothes of the deceased. The latter department supplied all raw materials needed for the other two departments. Finally, another factory was opened for feather cleaning.

All workers had to be at their positions by 6:00 a.m. Each department was supervised by the Jewish police and by supervisors from among the workers, who were responsible to Schwammberger for productivity. A work shift was from 12–14 hours. Anyone who missed work or was late would be severely punished, such as being transferred to Ghetto B, in addition to suffering beatings…

We should note here that the behavior of the supervisors was humane, aside from one irregular case involving officer Larssen [or Lissner, Josef – ed.], who was an evil and sadistic man by nature and who was truly happy when he was able to snitch on someone. The other supervisors tried to help the workers as best they could, and even risked their lives on occasion.

There were some 1,000 workers in both ghettos, aside from 300 “illegal” children, elderly and sick people. In Ghetto B, there were roughly 200–300 people who went to work in the Reiser and the Baudienst. In addition to them, some 100 people worked in the Wehrmacht and were housed in the barracks. Ghetto A was empty all day because everyone was at work. Only during the evening hours could people be seen outside.

From time to time, Schwammberger would visit during the workshops. Usually everything went well, because the Jewish police had lookout points from which they could give advanced warning of his arrival by means of prearranged signs. Then all workers would assume their positions and work would proceed. But there were some unusual occasions when Schwammberger surprised the camp with his arrival from an unexpected vantage point. People who were caught off work were severely punished by flogging, imprisonment, and transfers from the camp to Ghetto B.

In May 1943, Schwammberger ordered the Jews in the camp to organize an orchestra. Since, there were not many people in Ghetto A who could play a musical instrument, Professor Silber, who had taken charge of organizing the orchestra, asked Schwammberger to allow him to take people from Ghetto B who could play. He was allowed to do so, and only two weeks after its establishment, the orchestra performed in public from one of the open balconies which looked onto Iwaszkiewicza Street. Schwammberger, with his wife and other Germans, honored this first performance with his presence and listened to the Viennese waltzes and other music. This did not prevent Schwammberger from killing two people who were standing by the barbed wire fence conducting some kind of deal with the Aryans the day after the first concert. The orchestra played three times a week, it was a kind of street music for the workers, who were given orders to gather at the “concert” location.

And thus, between “concerts”, shootings, and working, the days passed by without a glimmer of

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hope. Everyone sensed that the concerts were a deception maneuver, a sort of anesthetic in preparation for future events…

This is how life passed in Ghetto A and Ghetto B. People lived in relative calm between one event and the next. There were cases were tradesmen were requisitioned from other camps.

The arrival of a car or wagons in the ghetto was a bad sign. Every sound of a car in the middle of the night aroused fear. People fled to the bunkers that had been prepared from before. When they came out after the disturbance passed, everything calmed down.

 

Resistance

In the middle of April 1943, a group of youngsters organized themselves, headed by Brumek, Kastner and Green[v]. These were energetic and active young people, who went outside the ghetto on their way to the woods surrounding Przemyśl. They had received word that there were partisans there, and they were sure they could enlist their help and cooperate in their activities. Before their departure, they were assisted by all the ghetto residents, who kept the plan from the Judenrat.

To the great sadness of all the Jews, word came that the entire group, some 12 men, had been killed near Przemyśl by Ukrainians, and Green was the sole survivor. He returned to the ghetto the day after one of the Gestapo men, Reisner, was severely injured. Various witnesses reported this affair, either having heard of it or having apparently seen it. From all these witness accounts, the following picture can be surmised:

On the evening of May 10, 1943, Reisner, who was inebriated, passed through the barbed wire fence into the ghetto, apparently making his way to meet a young Jewish woman he knew. On his way, he met a young Jewish man, Meir Krebs, who was accompanied by a young girl and another young man. The Gestapo man, Reisner, was a notoriously cruel German, and when he saw Krebs he aimed his gun at him and ordered him to put his hands up and turn around. Krebs, who saw the danger coming, did not hesitate a moment, drew a knife, stabbed Reisner several times, and took his gun from him. Reisner collapsed, started crying for mercy and passed out. Krebs, who thought Reisner was dead, immediately ran into town, where he found a hiding place.

When the event was made public, the Gestapo came into the ghetto, killed several people, and took 50 hostages. They promised to return them if Krebs and his accomplices were turned over to them. The Jewish police began a search around the ghetto and in the Aryan part of town. On their way they met Green, who had returned from the Partisans without anyone knowing, and another young man whose name was either Grost or Groft[vi]. They imprisoned them, but could not find Krebs.

Krebs, who later was discovered to have been hiding in the attic of the Scheinbach Synagogue, began to suffer from hunger. He had taken no food with him. He sent a Polish acquaintance to the ghetto to request food and water. This messenger came across the

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Jewish police. That is how the police found out where Krebs was hiding. Krebs had a revolver with him, but did not use it. He turned himself over to the police voluntarily. The police notified the Gestapo that the entire “criminal gang” had been caught.

The three were handed over to the Gestapo. They held a public hanging in the ghetto square, at which all the ghetto residents, headed by the Judenrat, were forced to attend. The Gestapo commanded the Jewish police to implement the hanging sentence. The first policeman who was ordered to hang the people passed out. Another policeman took on the duty and did what he had to do. Krebs was hung first, then Green, who yelled as he went up to the gallows: “Cruel murderers! Our blood is on your heads! G–d will avenge us!” After the sentencing was carried out, 27 of the hostages were shot and killed, despite the promise that they would be released. The remaining 23 were released.

A short time after this event, the Gestapo made a proposal: 30 young people who were being held in prison for various crimes and had been sentenced to death should be replaced with elderly people to be given over by the Judenrat. There were many arguments within the Judenrat, but after the deliberations they decided to make the “deal.” No one in the ghetto knew of it, and one night the ghetto police raided all the houses and took out anyone who struck them as old. The “deal” was carried out: the old people went to prison and the youngsters left.

This affair caused many heated arguments in the ghetto as well as after the liberation. It stirred up the entire small community in the ghetto, and after the war it affected all the Jews.

However, after the discussions, nobody could decide whether this act was permissible. One thing became clear in the affair: the Germans wanted to devastate the Jewish moral values, to humiliate them and present them with difficult problems and conflicts.

At this point, I would like to mention Dr. Loebel, who was a gynecologist in Przemyśl until 1934. (He was the son–in–law of Meir Honikoks, of blessed memory). After a competition, he was appointed director of the Jewish hospital in Siedlce, where he demonstrated his skills. In October 1939, the Nazis appointed him head of the Judenrat. He fulfilled the position honorably, and won the respect of the Jewish population. He continued to work as the director of the Jewish hospital.

On Saturday, August 28, 1942 when the Nazis ordered all the Jews to gather in the Umschlagsplatz for a selektion, Dr. Loebel came with everyone, even though he was permitted to remain at the hospital, and the Gestapo head to promise that no harm would befall him.

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Many injured and dead Jews lay on the Umschlagsplatz, and Dr. Loebel asked the German murderers to be allowed to transport the injured people to the hospital. He was given permission, and thereby many injured people were saved in the hospital. That evening, those who had been selected as capable of working were moved to the small ghetto.

Dr. Loebel was ordered by the head of the Gestapo to move to the small ghetto. He replied that will not leave the hospital, and will share the fate of his brothers and sisters.

The hospital was liquidated two days after the liquidation of the ghetto. All patients, including the children, were shot in their beds. Dr. Loebel and his wife were taken outside behind the hospital and shot, along with all the doctors, medics and nurses. At the last moment of his life Dr. Loebel cried out “Death be upon you, murderers! The Jewish people will outlive you!”

The Loebels' son, Witek, hid for several months together with a number of young Jews, until they were finally killed by the Germans.

Dr. Klinghoffer lived in a town called Niżankowice, near Przemyśl. He was loved by the entire population. He was a good doctor, and a very honorable man. His hobby was – bees. He had about 12 beehives. He also loved flowers, and planted various types of roses. Jewish residents from all the nearby towns, including Niżankowice, along with Dr. Klinghoffer, were sent to the Przemyśl Ghetto before it was closed.

He was very depressed when the ghetto was closed. It was not because a wrong was done to him, but rather because he believed that the world was only good – he could not accustom himself to the current situation. His inner belief was broken. Until the first aktion, he believed that everything would change, and that it would not be as bad as people thought. Suddenly, the aktion came. On July 27, 1942, the first day of the first aktion, when an S.S. man was on Czarnieckiego Street, and he did not greet him by removing his hat as was demanded by the Germans, the S.S. man smacked him on the face, and asked him, “Why did you not remove your hat?” As a response, Dr. Klinghoffer removed the Magen David from his arm, threw the cloth at the German, and shouted to him, “Murderer, G–d will punish you!” Of course, he was quickly taken to a corner of the ghetto and shot after being cruelly beaten. In the city, they talked for a long time about the heroic death of the doctor.

 

Another Slaughter

During August, there was already talk in the ghetto of a new aktion, but the rumors were not taken seriously. In the early morning of September 2, 1943, when cars were heard in the ghetto, no one thought it was the beginning of an aktion. Only when they learned that the ghetto was already surrounded by the Gestapo, did they realize that the aktion had begun.

[Page 521]

At 3:00 a.m., the first shots were heard. The first victims were the people who tried to escape the ghetto at the last minute.

All ghetto residents were ordered to go to the deportation point. Almost everyone hid in their bunkers. The Germans, assisted by an entire armed Latvian battalion[vii], took the Jews from the bunkers – some 3,500 people. They put them onto trains and sent them to Auschwitz. This was on September 2nd and 3rd. The Gestapo also took 600 people from the work camp and sent them to the death camp in Szebnie. They left the remaining 250 Jews, ostensibly for “cleanup” work. According to the Gestapo's estimate, there were still some 2,100 people missing. They began to search for them with the aid of the Schupo and the engineering corps. They destroyed any house that aroused their suspicion. After great efforts, they managed to find 300 more Jews. They were placed in two houses surrounded by barbed wire.

Then the Germans appointed a new Judenrat, headed by Mr. Neubort. The Gestapo promised that the Jews would stay there for two weeks and then be sent to work in Szebnie. The Gestapo chief even announced that he would send the people who voluntarily left their bunkers to Szebnie, and that they have nothing to worry about. The Judenrat also gave this promise, with their personal Ehrenwort (“word of honor”).

Based on this promise, some 900 Jews left their bunkers and announced their willingness to “go to work.” A small fraction of them were taken by Schwammberger to “his” camp. The rest were sent temporarily to a new camp. It was calm for a period.

On September 10, Schwammberger suddenly ordered an appell (roll call) in the camp. During Schwamberger's appell the Gestapo searched the barracks and all other places for Jews hiding out. In the barracks cellar an eight–year–old girl was found, the daughter of Dr. Falick [Fellig – ed.], a German POW, whose wife had been taken to Szebnie on September 3. The girl was a pretty blond. One of the Gestapo people found her – Miller, a strong, extremely tall man (2 meters), whose appearance was terrifying. Everyone could see that Miller simply did not know what to do with the girl, and after some hesitation he threw her right next to Schwammberger. He too did not know what to do with the girl, but at the last minute some human emotion was aroused in him, and he tossed her into the arms of the Jews who were to remain in the camp, saying: “Here, take her.” Incidentally, this girl survived and now lives with her father in England.

It should be noted that all the distinguished townspeople – the German citizens – had been invited to this appell. They all came in their festive outfits to witness what was being done to the Jews. After the appell, a small number of Jews were returned to the ghetto.

On September 11, Bennewitz, the Gestapo head, ordered an appell in the temporary ghetto. Not one of the 1,200 people present at the appell suspected that their time had come. They thought they would simply be sent to work in Szebnie. Bennewitz, with the three Gestapo men, Reichal, Timme [Richard – ed.], and Benesch, arrived at the Judenrat yard together with Ukrainian policemen. Bennewitz took a

[Page 522]

large sheet of paper out of his bag and began to read. In the beginning, the people did not understand, or did not want to understand the content. However, after a few moments everyone realized that this was their death sentence. The reason given for the punishment was their evasion of the previous deportation. After the sentence was read out, Bennewitz demanded from all the astounded people not to panic or yell. The sentence would not be halted. Everyone would be shot in their back. He demanded that, one by one, groups of 50 people take off all their clothes and walk in an orderly fashion to the killing spot… And that is what was done.

In the house in the last ghetto, which was known as “the circle” because of its round shape, groups of 50 people took off their clothes and walked calmly toward the death place next to the prison, where the three aforementioned Gestapo men were standing, armed with machine guns. Calmly, without shedding a tear, they all went to their deaths. Antman, a rural Jewish man from Pikulice, two meters tall, ran there. He wanted to be first in line, followed by his son and wife, tall and strong like him.

The shooting went on for six hours. Each shot resonated and frightened the Jews who were still left in the bunkers. A mother cried out: “Now they are shooting my child.” A sister sighed and cried as if she sensed that her brother was being shot at that moment. In the corner, a man stood beating his chest, enthusiastically reciting the Al Chet confession. Others covered their ears, so that they could hear less…

After that mass execution, Reichal, the Gestapo man, arrived in the courtyard and demanded that the camp director Schwammberger give him two Jews to burn the bodies of the victims. He was given Grauer from Dobromil and Wolfling, an engraver from Przemyśl. When he asked for two more people, Schwammberger asked the Jews to choose two people themselves. No one was willing to do it, so Schwammberger announced that the first two people to appear in the yard would be taken for the job. To their misfortune, two well–known violinists appeared first, Professor Silber and Mr. Rosenzweig. Schwammberger took them to that task.

The fires burned for five days and nights. A thick cloud of black smoke hung over the entire ghetto and throughout the city. As the townspeople later recounted, the air was poisoned with the sweet, nauseating smell. Everything seemed to be covered with a palpable layer of sticky grease. Even slices of bread, which were a rare commodity at that time, made them nauseated when they put it in their mouths.

After all the bodies had been burned, under Gestapo supervision, the four Jews were forced to sift through the ashes and search for any gold teeth or other valuables. After the cleaning up, the Gestapo lead these four people to Bakończyce and killed them with a hand grenade. The murderers loaded the ashes onto carts and threw it into the San River.

At this point, we would like to commemorate two martyrs who voluntarily went to their deaths out of their love and devotion to their families. The son of Professor Brandler decided at the last moment to die along with his parents. The second, Shmuel Nagel (a Captain), refused to let his wife and child go to their deaths alone.

[Page 523]

No More Illusions

After this slaughter, silence and depression pervaded the small remaining camp. There were no longer any illusions as to the future. Everyone started to think about the options of salvation: some through contact with Poles, and others by escaping from the city. The Poles did not respond quickly. A few people did escape.

When Schwammberger found out about the escapes (it was not difficult to detect the missing numbers in such a small group of people, especially when an appell was conducted twice a day) the survivors were sentenced to death. Some escaped the severe punishment. Many escaped. Incidentally, there were several illegal people hiding amongst the remaining legal people.

Everyone thought that that had been the last aktion. The aktion of September 2 had indeed been the last, there was another “little” aktion. On November 28, the Gestapo entered the tiny ghetto and took out a hundred people who were sent to Szebnie. There were about 150 people left, aside from the illegals. There were children among them. The numbers slowly decreased due to the escapes. Even all the Judenrat people escaped. Only a few were left, and they were sent away at the end of February to Stalowa Wola. Some were sent to Auschwitz.

Among those who remained until the end was the renowned author, Matityahu [Mateusz] Mieses, a modest man. As told by those who were with him at the time, he wrote the entire time that he was in the camp. He recorded his memoirs of everything that happened during the Holocaust. He was sent to Szebnie on September 3, 1943, but was returned to Przemyśl after an order was given from above.

On March 2, six months before the final aktion, two senior ranking Germans visited the camp. One was a scholar who wanted to visit the library, which consisted of books collected from the private and public libraries of the Jews. He met the writer Mieses, who was the library director at that time. He talked with Mieses, and recognized him as a knowledgeable man. Therefore, he intervened and tried to save him. Indeed, Mieses remained in the camp until the end of its existence. Then sent to Płaszów, behind Krakow. From there he was forced to walk to Germany as the front neared. He collapsed along the way and was shot.

The following people were the assistants of the library director M. Mieses: Moshe and Shmuel Gottfried, Dr. Oberhard, Asher Tuchmann, Izydor Mahler, and Prof. Brandler.

When Schwammberger once paid a surprise visit to the library and saw that the people were not working, he commented:

“The gentlemen are having a pleasant conversation, are they?”

Mieses replied, “Why all the questions? You have lost the war anyway.”

Schwammberger did not react. He left the library.

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The Liberation – and Afterward

As has been mentioned, the camp was liquidated at the end of February. This meant that in theory there were no Jews remaining in Przemyśl. In fact, there were still some remaining bunkers with approximately 120 Jews. From March to August1944, three or four bunkers housing forty to fifty Jews were destroyed. At the beginning of July1944, the front neared Przemyśl. The bombardments and shooting in the city by the Russians began on July 23. These bombings were the first sign of liberation for the Jews who remained in their bunkers. On July 27, 1944, at 3:00 a.m., all the bunker residents, especially those at the higher points of town, heard Russian coming from the town center, calling “Davay Nazad.” etc. Then everyone knew that the Russians had entered town. On July 27, the day on which the first aktion had begun in Przemyśl two years earlier, the Russians entered the city.

It is impossible to describe the joy mixed with tears which pervaded on liberation day. At approximately 9:00 a.m., the first Jews began to leave their bunkers, although the Russian army had not yet reached town and only partisans had arrived. On the first day of the liberations, the Jews sought each other out, and conducted a sort of “census” of the survivors.

 

prz524.jpg
Commemoration at the Przemyśl Jewish cemetery, 1946

[Page 525]

prz525.jpg
Monument in memory of ghetto victims on the place where they were shot on September 12, 1943

 

On the first day of liberation, many Jews returned to their hiding places, because they still could not internalize the sense of liberation. They did not yet believe everything. Ukrainians and Poles spread rumors in the city that the Germans would return. The situation was completely unclear. But these were false rumors.

After a few days, a small number of Jews – approximately 100 – gathered to examine the situation and decide what to do next.

A Przemyśler who would walk through the streets at that time would immediately sense the lack of the Jewish presence. All the main streets which had been full of Jewish businesses now did not have one Jewish business. The formerly bustling city was as if asleep. It had the feel of a small town. At the end of 1944, there were about 200 Jews in Przemyśl (about 20 from Przemyśl, and the rest from Bircza, Mościska, Dynów, and other places).

Most of the Jews were employed as workers in cooperatives and factories. There were no Jewish tradesmen except for one hairdresser (Neubort), a few physicians (Dr. Susswein, Dr. Sonecki [Sohn], Dr. Blech), and a few lawyers (Dr. Turski–Teitelbaum, Dr. [Daniel] Haupt, and Mrs. Dr. [Alicja] Halpern [dentist]).

There was no cultural life. There was a division of the Jewish Cultural Union in Poland, headed by Yaakov Wilner, but its activity was restricted to

[Page 526]

conducting celebrations for national holidays or the ghetto memorial day in Przemyśl. There was also a religious division, but without a leader and without a sign of life.

All the houses that belonged to the community were nationalized. The Scheinbach Synagogue was turned into a warehouse, and the Zasanie Synagogue became a [public] institution[viii]. No trace remained of the large synagogue[ix] and the Tempel. The cemetery was neglected, aside from several monuments that remain in good condition thanks to relatives of the deceased who live abroad.

In general, the survivor population of Przemyśl shrunk. Those who remained did not think about leaving for Israel or any other place. They decided to end their lives there.

Anyone who would walk by the former location of the ghetto would see a strange picture. Almost all the houses that belonged to Jews were sunken into the ground and fallen. It is therefore possible that Christians came every night to search for hidden treasures. However, the rubble[c] is regarded as a sign of a curse that hangs over the area …

 

prz526.jpg
A group of Przemyśl Holocaust survivors in “Hashomer Hadati”, 1946

 

Original footnote

  1. With the participation of the Holocaust survivors Mrs. Brudner, Mrs. Kaspi Finkelstein, Mrs. Bauman, Mrs. Tennenbaum–Knapfel, Dr. Stromer, Y. Knapfel Back

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Known is other sources as Gmilut Hessed [Hassadim is plural of Hessed]. Literally, [an organization for] the performance of benevolent deeds. Back
  2. Plural of Polish gimnazjum – secondary school. Back
  3. org. in Polish – “gruzowisko”. Back

Editor's / Coordinator's Footnotes:

  1. In the original text – “November 18th” – an obvious mistake, as this transport departed on June 18th. November 18th is the date of second major “aktion” in Przemysl ghetto and the last transport to Belzec. Back
  2. See the testimony of Aleksandra Mandel – http://www.deathcamps.org/occupation/mandel.html Back
  3. Heizer – most probably shortened “Heizwerk” – heating plant. Back
  4. Julian Scherner, highest ranking SS officer in district of Krakow, the man in charge of Operation Reinhard in Krakow. Back
  5. In several sources this spelling of the original name Grin is due to the fact that this man, originating from Biała, spent his life prior to the war in England. Back
  6. Most likely his name was Gruft. Back
  7. It was Estonian units of 287th and 288th Police Battalion (recruited from Omakaitse members). Back
  8. Zasanie synagogue, turned into electrical plant by Germans, later served as a garage. Back
  9. The ruins of the great synagogue remained preserved until 1956, the story is told in Hebrew section, [Page 51]. Back

 

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