by Zachariah Kozienicki, Bnei Brak
Translated by Miriam Leberstein
Before the war
Kurozwęki [Yiddish name Karezvank], a small town five kilometers from Staszów, had a population of 4,000, including 35 Jewish families totaling 135 people. The local Jews had roots in the town dating back generations, and earned a respectable living as tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, merchants and the like.
The town, with its riches and with the large estates of Count Popiel, with their forests, mills, sawmills and so on, attracted merchants from the surrounding area, like Staszów, Szydlów, Chmielnik, Stopnica, and Pacanów. As a result, the Jewish influence in the town was quite substantial, despite the small size of the Jewish community there. Wherever you went, you would encounter Jews, whether local residents or visitors who had business ties with the local population and especially with the abovementioned nobleman's estates.
Kurozwęki was a suburb of Staszów and was closely tied to it not only economically, but in the cultural sphere as well. Every Saturday the youth of both communities would gather in the Kurozwęki Woods, enjoying themselves together for hours, talking and debating. A number of young people from Staszów were members of the Beitar group in Staszów, and our Betar and Staszów's Hashomer Hatzair [Young Guard Zionist youth]would often organize meetings where they would conduct serious debates over the approaches of both organizations. Despite the profound differences between the two groups, the debates, while fierce, were enjoyed by both sides, and were held often. They encouraged both sides to study and constantly expand their knowledge, so as to be better armed in the next debate and beat their opponents.
Kurozwęki also held its own with the larger communities when it came to religious matters. Lacking the material resources to hire its own rabbi, it shared one with nearby Szydlów, whose rabbi Rav Rabinowicz, fulfilled the rabbinical functions in Kurozwęki. On the other hand, we had our own shoykhet [ritual slaughterer] and our own besmedresh [house of study] was filled every evening with Jews immersed in studying Torah.
Outbreak of the war
As everywhere else, the Germans began to exercise their power as soon as they entered the town. They immediately began to impose a series of taxes, one after the other. The town was completely impoverished, so much so that later the town council was unable to demand more payments and the Germans themselves went out to get money, attacking the frightened, exhausted Jews, taking whatever they could find and mercilessly beating their victims.
Conditions got even worse when refugees began to pour in from Radom, Łódź, Busko and other Jewish towns. We reached out to these unfortunates as brothers, sharing our homes and our last bit of food, but it became harder and harder to make a living. Under these circumstances, Jews ignored the decrees forbidding them to leave their homes upon pain of death, and set off to Staszów, to find a bit of food for their hungry families. Many of our Jews paid with their lives for defying the Germans' decree.
With the arrival of the Omler road construction company came fresh troubles. The Jews were forced to provide a specific number of road workers. Under the most severe conditions, in snow and rain, and without pay, these workers had to fulfill their work quotas or be mercilessly beaten.
In 1942, when there began the horrifying exterminations aksties against the Jews, which were called by the deceptively innocent name deportations, Jews who had been in hiding or who had escaped, began to arrive in our town in order to gain some time. But our town was too small, making it very difficult for them to hide out. It often happened that Poles would catch Jews and turn them over to the Polish police (we didn't have German police post). In such cases, they were freed through the intervention of president Dovid Kozienicki, on condition that they leave town immediately and never return. It also happened that the Germans would capture Jews, like the Salcman family form Szydlów, or another family from Raków, but in those cases nothing could be done to save them and they were murdered.
In this way we went on with our sad lives in the hopes that the Omler works would perhaps save our town from the bitter fate that had befallen the entire area, near and far. But this was unfortunately a mirage, an empty dream.
There came the fateful Saturday, November 7, 1942, and our town was surrounded. some people managed to escape, but others were shot in the attempt. All of those assembled were taken to Staszów and the next day they were deported along with the entire Staszów Jewish community. In this way Kurozwęki, in its destruction as in normal times, shared its fate with Staszówer Jewry.
After the deportation, a few Jews who had gone into hiding roamed around town, completely defenseless and alone. The sly Germans published an announcement about the establishment of a Judenstaat in Sandomierz, where all the Jews who were left would be allowed to live. We had little faith in the German promise, but we had no choice but to allow ourselves to fall into this trap, travelling to Sandomierz, which a short time later was also liquidated. Of the several thousand deported people, 300 were selected to go to Skarżysko [forced labor munitions factory], among them twelve from our town. Because of the arduous working conditions and brutal regime that prevailed there, eight of the twelve ran away, back to Kurozwęki. The other four, including myself, also no longer trusted the Poles, having seen during this whole time how eagerly they collaborated with the Germans. So, having no choice, we stayed in Skarżysko, surrendering to our fate.
When we returned to Kurozwęki after liberation in 1945, we didn't find anyone [of our fellowJews] there. The escapees had all been killed by the Poles. Here is the sad final tally: of the small but deeprooted, generations old Kurozwęki Jewish community, out of 135 Jews who lived there before the war, only two remained alive.
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