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[Page 257, Volume 2]

Memories of the Uprising
in the Tarnow Ghetto

by Hela Bornsztajn-Ross

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

We lived on Folwarczna Street in Tarnow, not far from the large synagogue – a giant, massive one with a large cupola. For half a century, they had made an effort to rebuild it. And therefore it was not so easy for the Hitlerist destroyers to demolish it quickly. The drunk Germans tried for 24 hours by exploding the synagogue with dynamite, until the cupola fell in the middle of the ruins with such a rush and noise, as if the world would be destroyed. The Germans, drunk with victory over the house of prayer, shot into the windows of Jewish houses on the way home. We sat huddled together, afraid of what would happen, not knowing that what would happen later would be more terrible.

We quickly were driven into a ghetto that in the beginning encompassed the entire Jewish quarter. There played out a true hell: seizures, selections, umshlog platz [place where Jews were assembled forcibly for deportations] and liquidations, leading to the crematoria. The Jewish population was annihilated lightning fast, shrunk and in terms of to its size, the ghetto constantly became smaller. In general, I will not repeat the known facts of the spiritual and physical annihilation, which the brown [shirt] bandits carried out against the

[Page 258]

unprotected Jewish population. However, I will never forget the image that played out in our neighborhood. This took place in the Pod Dębem [under the oak tree] ghetto during the first liquidation. Wild German soldiers entered an apartment that had long ago lost its appearance of a human residence. Lisha Unger lived there with his family. The Germans began to shoot blindly, killing his entire family. Lisha, seeing this, lay down near the dead body of his wife, asking the murderers to shoot him, too. The Germans mocked the Jew who was lying down, kicked him and beat him until they shot him. My father, Gedalia Barnsztajn, of blessed memory, saw this tragic image.

There were frequent cases of open rebellion on the part of the persecuted Jews in Tarnow. Facher, the furrier, from whom the Germans wanted to take his child, did not allow them to do so and he beat, scratched and kicked the members of the Gestapo. Finally, they lay him on the ground, shot at him and his child and also murdered him with rifle butts in a beastly manner.

The 18-year old Alban also defended himself with dignity in the face of death. He did not want to kneel at the umshlog-platz and received a blow from the S.S. man who stood near him. The Germans tore him [while he was still alive] to pieces.

It is worth underlining the heroic conduct of some 40 Jews who hid in Rotenberg's bunker. When they were discovered, they shot at the Germans, killing several of them. They fought heroically until their deaths.

The resistance movement here [in Tarnow] especially was embraced by the young who began to organize themselves. In time, contact was established with the resistance movement of the young people in Krakow and with the Polish underground organization. It should be understood that because of the danger lying in wait and persecutions, liquidations and torture, the contact was loose and often interrupted. However, our young people organized a defense with superhuman strength. The son of the shoykhet [ritual slaughterer] (alas, I do not remember his name) went over to the Aryan side from the ghetto to maintain steady contact with the Krakow Jewish young people and the Polish underground. The Germans discovered him and arrested him. However, he successfully extracted himself from their hands and escaped, shooting at

[Page 259]

his persecutors. He arrived in the ghetto and the murderers, not being able to catch him, threatened the ghetto with the murder of 1,000 Jews if the shoykhet's son was not handed over The young man handed himself over to the Germans to prevent such a mass murder.

There also were sporadic and organized cases of revolt and self defense by other courageous young people, but alas, the notes about them were lost during my escape from the Tarnow ghetto. Therefore, I only provide facts that have been etched in my memory.

Despite the fact that another group or individuals in the rebellions would fall into the hands of the Gestapo, a group of young people from Hashomer HaTzair [socialist-Zionist – The Youth Guard] had an effect in the area of the Tarnow ghetto. It organized the crossing to the other side of the border – to Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The last liquidation of the ghetto was unexpected by this group and they did not succeed in making contact with the agents who led the underground movement. The Rebhon brothers, Szisler, both Szisler sisters, Mrs. Bridre (née Gras), Sztraus and the well-liked guard, known by the pseudonym, “Kubczu” and his younger brother belonged to this group. The ghetto walls were heavily surrounded then with armed soldiers. An armed German or Ukrainian stood every 10 steps. However, this did not completely frighten the Shomrim [Jewish guards] from carrying out their intended plan. They escaped at night with weapons in their hands, shooting, succeeding in reaching outside the ghetto walls and went to the southern part of the city in the direction of the Tuchawer forest. Here they reached an S.S. group. [The S.S.] surrounded and murdered them. Only “Kubczu,” wounded in his hand, and his brother survived. They had no other option. They returned to the ghetto to try their luck for the second time, which also was successful for them. According the available rumors, both brothers are alive.

It should be understood that this was not an isolated plan. Many other young people defended Jewish honor with weapons in their hands.

The Jews driven together to the Tarnow ghetto from the surrounding shtetlekh [towns] also showed various forms of revolt. I must mention here the 65-year old Mrs. Ester Flejszer from Dombrowa near Tarnow. She escaped twice from transports, that were going to crematoria. She tried to make

[Page 260]

contact with the partisans in the surrounding forests. Alas, before she reached them, she was caught during the last liquidation of the ghetto. She committed suicide, swallowing luminol, which had previously been readied so that she would not fall into the hands of the Hitlerists.

Seeing that the Hilterist devils were systematically murdering the Jewish population, I, locked in the ghetto, decided to escape to save myself and my parents. On the eve of the third deportation, on a Sunday evening when the Gestapo members would get drunk, I exited the ghetto through a break in the fencing. This was a moment of superhuman effort and toil because the Ukrainian scoundrels who guarded the ghetto were as diligent as the Germans themselves in persecuting the Jews. Yet I was successful in getting out from the closed quarter and ran in the direction of the water pipes near the village of Krzyż and where, guided by instinct, I went to a peasant who once had worked for my parents. He had a bunker where the Szmukler family (five people) already was hiding. The peasant gave me a roof over my head and I was able to convince him to make contact with my parents to take them out of the ghetto. Fortunately, he just then had work in the area of the ghetto, taking certain materials in his wagon. Using an extraordinary trick, he successfully brought my parents out of the ghetto. Then we were eight people in a narrow bunker where we hid for 27 months. The bunker was built in such a way that we could not stand, but we lay or sat. The hiding place was in an attic; it was dark, wet and extraordinarily cold. After 12 hours, bread would become completely moldy. During rain or a storm, we could permit ourselves to speak a word and this quietly. The throat, after many weeks of silence, would begin to hurt badly when we opened our mouths to say something. We lived in fear because this area would be searched often and the specter of death would always be before our eyes. The moment was terrible when one of our co-inhabitants, a young man, left the bunker on a dark night and never returned. Every day that we remained in the bunker we were like crazy people. We were sure that the captured young man would reveal our hiding place. Finally I decided

[Page 261]

to leave the bunker, having Aryan papers in my possession. While digging ditches I was recognized by a Polish school friend. I lived through minutes of deadly fear; who knew if he would turn me in? This did not happen. I succeeded in returning to the bunker, where I was hidden until the liberation.

We were the first Jews who appeared in the streets of liberated Tarnow. The Poles looked at us as if at something of a wondrous. We, ourselves, were intoxicated and surprised by the daylight and we did not yet believe in our ability to move freely, that we were alive, that we were free, that we were no longer persecuted dogs. For a long time we could not throw off the most otherworldly experiences and nightmares of the not too distant past.


[Page 264, Volume 2]

Memories of Those Terrible Times

by Lili Wider–Rozenberg, Israel

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

 

Tar2_264.jpg
Lily–Wider Rozenberg

 

September 1939 was the end of a happy and carefree childhood for me and the beginning of a hell with the occupation of the Hitlerist murderers. The persecutions against the Jews – police curfews, obligatory wearing of the armband with a Mogen–Dovid [Shield of David – the Jewish Star], the closure of schools for Jewish children – began immediately that month when the Wehrmacht [German armed forces] and S.S. divisions occupied Tarnow. Rutka Wajs, her cousin and I studied in private with the [female] teacher, Mila Tirkel. In addition, I also studied English.

On the 3rd of May 1940 the Gestapo arrested my father, Dr. Emil Wider, of blessed memory, and in December 1940, we received a telegram from Auschwitz that my father had died there. In order to increase our suffering, the Gestapo summoned my mother ostensibly to give her details of her husband's death. In truth, they wanted to make fun of her despair and thus did not spare her any blows. The Germans did not forget from time to time to send us

[Page 265]

my father's things: his suit, postage stamps, money. And finally – a can of the ashes of my father, of blessed memory, whom we buried at the cemetery in Tarnow.

In time it became dangerous and risky for a Jew to appear on a Tarnow street. The Germans beat, tortured, grabbed [Jews] for work, cut off beards. The children were sad. They met in residences; they tried more and more not to be in the street.

The first shootings of people began in 1941. First, those who had returned from the eastern areas occupied by the Russians. Among others who perished during those shootings were Dr. Janek Ritter, Otto Wajs, Dr. Wilek Holender. To my great despair, going to my lessons I saw Jews who had been shot lying on the street. However, the worst came in June 1942 – the first deportations. We did not yet know that deportation meant death. Therefore, everyone tried to appear at the marketplace where the collection point was located. From our apartment at Targowa 3, we saw the Germans, who shouted, cursed, shot and beat while driving the old people and children into the trucks. We constantly heard shooting from the rynek [marketplace]. My mother and I made it safely through the aktsia [deportation] because we had a paper from the security police furnished with a stamp.

Several weeks after the first deportation, everyone was confined to the ghetto. We also learned about the death camps. The children reacted in different ways. Several believed that they would not survive the war; others, including myself, believed that we would save ourselves.

I received work in the Czacki School in the ghetto, sorting and disinfecting the clothing of the deported Jews. My mother worked at Riszen and I was never certain that we would see each other when we returned work. And meanwhile, the Germans shot at Jews in the ghetto without any reason, without any selection. My mother and I decided to make false documents and to escape from the ghetto. We postponed this from day to day. After we succeeded in avoiding the second deportation, we left the ghetto in September 1942. We spent the first night in the Rzedziner forest; then we left on foot for Czarna and from there to Lemberg by train. I wanted to believe that it would be easier to hide in a larger city. Moveover, we lived with the hope that Lemberg shortly would be liberated by the Russians. We spent the night in a private inn that later seemed to be a trap for Jews. As soon as we lay down,

[Page 266]

the Gestapo and the Ukrainian policemen came. They began to examine our documents. My mother quietly said: “Pretend that you are sleeping; only show your face.” This time, my “Aryan appearance” saved me.

The next morning we were lucky to find a room on Sapieha Street. I made up a pretext for the owner that I was hiding from being caught and sent to work in Germany. Therefore there was no reason for him to report us. We hid in the apartment for only three days a week. On the other days we traveled in the villages and bought dairy products and sold them in the city – and we survived on this. We tried to travel at night because the trains were relatively safer. In November 1942 we brought our two cousins, Gizsha and Tosha Waserlauf, of blessed memory, (from Krakow) from the Tarnow ghetto. We wanted to save them. I remained with them in Lemberg while my mother continued to travel around the villages. Several weeks later, while my mother was not with us, denouncers, who passed themselves off as “criminal investigating” functionaries entered our apartment. We bribed them with our watches, which we took off our wrists.

In the morning we left for Przemysl, leaving my mother a note that we were traveling to the well–known genteel Polish woman, Jozefina Lumbe. She welcomed us with tears in her eyes and hid us for three full weeks, At the same, time my mother had jumped from a train on the route from Lemberg to Przemysl because of fear of the Germans. She was brought to the hospital in Przemysl in an unconscious state.

My two cousins had to leave the apartment of the good Christian woman and return to the ghetto, where they perished. Mrs. Lumbe allowed me to stay with her as long as my mother lay in the hospital. But this lasted for weeks because the doctors asserted that because of her unfortunate jump, the patient had gotten tuberculosis in her bones and who knew if she would ever walk again. I took my mother to Lemberg, to a well–known specialist, Professor Gruca, who took her to his clinic and began to heal her and put on casts.

In Lemberg I rented a residence on Kurkowe Street. In 1942, during a police raid on the street, I was caught and sent to Germany on forced labor. I was despondent because my mother could not walk and I also was afraid that a more thorough inspection of my false papers would lead to the discovery that I was a Jewish child. Then

[Page 267]

it became apparent that my being sent to Germany had saved my life. My mother, on the contrary, had remained completely alone in her casts; she had walked in order to earn a livelihood.

I experienced many and varied things in Germany. In the hall in a transit camp I became acquainted with Janina Ruczicka, also a Jewish girl. We became good friends, but never mentioned our origins. We were separated after several weeks. She was sent to Salzwedel and I, thanks to the help of an unknown German, was sent to the weapons factory – Stock et Kampf, in Stalberg–Tirathal, as a translator from German to Russian and French. When it immediately became apparent that I did not know any of the languages, thanks to the help of a German translator I succeeded in receiving work in the bookkeeping bureau. Later, they suggested that I register as a Volksdeutsche [ethnic German], which would permit me to continue to work at my posts. I refused and therefore I was taken to work in a train restaurant and later to a farmer. I was freed by the American Army in April 1945.


[Page 268, Volume 2]

Belzec, the Place of Death of the Tarnow Jews

by Jerzy Bergman

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

 

Tar2_268.jpg

 

The Hitlerist death camps are one of the darkest and most shameful pages in the history of humankind. In order to give an impression of this orgy of bestiality and all of its effects, the Nuremberg Tribunal, which judged the war criminals, had to enrich human language with only one word, which contains in it the terror, pain and rage: genocide!

The following description is dedicated to only one such place, a single place on the dense and large death map – the map of the mass murder of innocent people. This small place is the mass grave of 600,000 human creatures, the cemetery of 600,000 dead Jews from Poland, Russia and Czechoslovakia.

Here, in Belzec, also was the place of death for thousands of Tarnow Jews.

This small shtetl [town] on the southeastern edge of Lublin Province, eight kilometers [about five miles] from Tomaszow-Lubelski, was sadly well-known during the years of the Hitlerist occupation, when at the beginning of 1942, one of the largest death camps was erected, which had only one task: to kill Jews.

The first transports began to arrive on a special side train line in March of that year. One hundred and fifty people were pushed into each train wagon. The camp was completely fenced in and guarded so that no one outside could see into it or could enter.

A barracks stood near the train line where the victims had to undress. An inscription hung over the one small window in the barracks: kosztowności (kostbarkeiten [treasures] or jewelry). A room with 100 seats was also located in the barracks and an inscription: “hairdressers.”

[Page 269]

After undressing, the victims were driven into a characteristic corridor – a passageway, fenced in with barbed wire on both sides, 50 meters [164 feet] long, which led to the laznia i inhalatorium (bathhouse and disinfection room), as the inscriptions on the fencing informed them. They approached a building whose outward appearance reminded one of a bathhouse. Flowers and various bushes grew on both sides. There was a sign with a painted Mogen Dovid [Shield of David – a Jewish star] on the roof with the inscription: Fundatsia Hokenholta (Hackenholt's Foundation). [Lorenz] Hackenholt, the Unterscharführer [junior squad leader] of the S.S., made use of the diesel motors, which produced the gas to kill the Jews in the rooms. The inscription was only a cynical irony for the victims.

On the 11th of June 1942 at a late night hour, or at the dawn of the 12th of June, the transport of 8,000 Tarnow Jews arrived at that actual spot, at the large factory of death, which consisted of several modest buildings.

And thus, as with all other transports, we can imagine that last road:

After a ride of long duration in train wagons designated for transporting cattle, the transport, guarded by Germans and Granatene [Blue Police – Polish police in German-occupied Poland] (Polish) policemen, arrived at the Belzec train station. Here they were taken over by the Ukrainian bandit guards, who, without a doubt, had sworn to protect the secret of the camp, although the smoke and smell that was carried from it revealed the terrible secret.

Several train wagons were detached from the transport, which were taken through the side train line. Two hundred Ukrainians stood around the train wagons and began to drive out the unfortunate Jews with blows and wild shouting. Orders were heard through a loudspeaker: “Everyone take off everything, even glasses and prostheses. Money and jewelry should be given at a small window with the inscription kosztowności [jewelry]. Women and children go to the hairdressers where hair is shaved!”

The naked men, women and children then were sent to the gas chamber, through the heavily fenced passageway. The S.S. man who stood at the entrance spoke mildly: “Nothing will happen to you; all you have to do is breathe deeply…”

Quietly, but pushing one another forward, the victims went up the wooden steps into the building in which the gas chamber was located. Many

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recited a prayer. Seven to eight hundred men were pushed into an area of 93 square meters [about 1,000 square feet]. Then the door was sealed shut and the motors, which dispersed the death gas, started immediately.

…Twenty-five minutes passed. Through the small window one could see (the gas chamber was illuminated inside) that many victims already were dead. Thirty-two minutes after bolting the door – everyone was dead. Interned Jews from the other side of the barracks waited for an order to open the wooden door – and a terrible picture was revealed before their eyes: the gassed Jews stood as if in stone columns, unmoving because the crowdedness and narrowness was without limit there. One could recognize families by the hands and arms they wrapped around each other in saying goodbye…

More than 20 camp inmates then were involved with checking the teeth of those who had perished. They opened the clamped, closed mouths with iron hatchets. Those with gold teeth, to the left, those without gold in their mouths, to the right. Others looked in the hidden parts of the bodies, looking there for money, gold, diamonds.

After this check, the gassed bodies were thrown into a large pit (approximately 100 by 12 meters [approximately 328 by 39 feet]) that was located near the gas chamber in the eastern part of the camp. After several days, the mass of bodies swelled and rose up – a sign that the gas had begun to leave… Then the bodies were laid on giant furnace grates, doused with kerosene and set on fire. The ashes were spread in the surrounding fields or buried deep in the earth.

Such gruesome scenes played out here almost every day over the course of the entire time of the camp's existence. The death “production” in the Belzec camp reached up to 15,000 victims a day. The liquidation of the Belzec camp began in December 1942. There was no longer any trace of the Belzec camp at the beginning of 1943. The camp chief, Christian Wirth, a major in the S.S., took care of this. Pine trees were planted on the smoothed out terrain and all traces of the death factory were erased.

However, now, 24 years after the liquidation, Belzec is not erased

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in human memories. It is true no documents remain, but the thousands of individual bones from the human skeletons give evidence of the German crimes at that spot. And a monument was erected at the very center of the former camp, for which a handful of surviving Tarnow Jews, who came to honor the martyrs, assembled for the 24th anniversary of the first deportation in Tarnow. Candles were lit at the monument; prayers and quiet sobbing was heard.

The German murderers did not succeed in completely erasing the traces of their terrible crimes in Belzec. The bones that are found forever tell of the great tragedy that occurred there.

*

The descriptions about the ways of killing the victims are taken from the statements of the S.S. Colonel Dr. Kurt Gerstein, an anti-fascist, who told the French military regime about the Belzec extermination camp several days before the end of the war. His statements do not necessarily relate to the transport of the Tarnow Jews, but there is no other living witness to the hell – and we may assume that our Tarnow Jews perished the same way.

Gerstein's description is the only one about the Belzec camp.

 

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