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[Page 286]

The Destruction of Zawiercie

by Yoel Grinkraut

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

The 22nd of June 1941. The news about the outbreak of the German-Soviet War spread lightning fast in the Zawiercie ghetto. We all thought that this would divert the Nazis from the murderous rampage against Jews. We, actually, immediately lived through a bitter mistake. Alas, on the same evening of the 22nd of June, a great calamity occurred in the ghetto: a hunt for the leftist elements and the arrest of ostensible leftists.

Actually, it was clear to everyone that as the Soviet-German flirtation had ended, the Nazis would conduct wild searches for leftists. Those who were known as leftists or had the basis to believe that they would be uncovered as being in leftist organizations hid in time.

It appeared that the Gestapo had given the higher Sturm Komando [storm troopers] of each city a designated quota. Given that the leftists in Zawiercie had hidden in advance, the members of the Gestapo arrested any young people – seven young Jewish men from Zawiercie who were as distant from leftist organization as heaven is from the earth. Among the arrestees were also many Poles whom the Germans suspected were in leftist organizations.

* * *

Among the seven arrestees was my twin brother, Yehuda-Eidl, who was very distant from communism. He was fully an active member of Betar [Brit Trumpeldor – Revisionist Zionist youth movement founded by Ze'ev Jabotinsky]. This was a great tragedy for our family. We simply did not know what to do to rescue him. Yosl Wortsman, Sztibel, Krelbaum and others whose names I do not remember were also among the seven arrested Jewish young people.

Our efforts to save my brother did not help. The Nazis whipped and incited their wild dogs against the arrestees, whom they bit murderously. We, brothers and sisters, knew the bitter truth but we did not tell this to our parents. We told them that the Gestapo had sent the arrestees to a jail in Opole.

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We received a telegram three days after Eidl's arrest that he had died. The Germans then still acted formally. Later, they did not even do such a formal thing as sending a notice.

Eidl's clothing came back after two weeks. With luck, the package came to my brother and not to our parents.

In the course of two years – from June 1941 to the last deportation in August 1943 – my mother would still stand near the window waiting. When we would ask her to go to sleep, she would say: “A train has arrived, perhaps Eidl is coming. The gendarmes will not grab him if someone opens the gate as soon as he calls.”

It looked the same to many other families, but, a little later, they learned what had happened to their arrested sons and brothers.

* * *

April 1942. The first deportation. Rumors spread about deportations in other areas (Lublin refuge), although we already knew well that the Nazis were carrying out mass deportations in Volyn.

Four weeks before the first deportation in Zawiercie, two representatives arrived from the feld bekleidungs-amt [field clothing office] of the Luftwaffe [aerial branch of German military], Lieutenant [Willi] Garbrecht and Captain Teichert. They began to organize various shops at the TAZ [Towarzystwo Akcyjne Zawiercie – Zawiercie Joint Stock Company] factory for making clothing that was needed by the Luftwaffe. They disassembled the machines in the factory itself and sent them to Germany. They broke a number of machines.

They created various workshops in the half-empty rooms.

May 1942. The first deportation of 2,000 Jews took place.

I already lived with my father-in-law, Avraham Koniecpolski. Young people created several bunkers in a few places there to save and hide themselves from deportations.

A house committee was created that had the task of keeping watch on the roof to see if the Gestapo was approaching the house.

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A night before the deportation, we knew that we had to enter the bunkers. The chaos in the courtyard was great. At that time, 48 families (114 souls) lived there instead of the 12 families during normal times. There were women, men and children. We told the group to enter the bunkers. We showed the group where the bunkers were, but none of us wanted to take upon ourselves the responsibility of showing them exactly which bunker they should enter.

There were two incidents in connection with entering the bunkers.

The first incident involved Reb Shimele Kornicer. He absolutely did not want to enter the bunker. His wife kept begging us, younger ones, to influence him, but we could not do it amicably, so we did it with force. Alas, we had to make use of force to drag him into the bunker.

The second incident involved Reb Yosef Shimeon Malc. Not only did he himself not want to go into the bunker, but he did not even permit his wife and children to enter.

On that day, the Malc family was the only Jewish family in our house that the Nazis sent away during the deportation.

The next morning after the deportation, gendarmes and S.S. members walked around the bunkers. They searched and spied. However, the group in our bunker was very disciplined and controlled. They [the gendarmes and S.S.] did not uncover the bunkers.

There were various bunkers: cellars, storehouses, bricked-up staircases and so on. At first, we did not know where they sent the Jews whom the Nazis gathered at the market and then transported away. However, a few days later, alas, we learned that they had been sent to Auschwitz.

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A few words about the German Wehrmacht [unified German armed forces] officers Teichert and Garbrecht. On the day of the action, they came out to the new market. They went to Jewish young people who they did not even know and said: “Why are you standing here? Do you still work with us at the Luftwaffe?”

Thus, for example, they said to my cousin, Pinya: “You are still an electrician with us; why are you standing here?”

There were tens of such cases.

Yet, Teichert and Garbrecht, by their best will, were powerless compared to the Gestapo and S.S. bands, who bloodily rampaged in the city, just shot, let dogs bite the innocent Jews, defiled and beat with whips and did more and more bestial deeds.

We must tell the truth with regard to Reik, Teichert and Garbrecht and the other liberal Nazis, that “gifts” also were not rejected. Yet they did everything to save Jews – perhaps, because they believed that Jews were good workers. However, on the other hand, there were many cases of help from Teichert and Garbrecht, in which “gifts” or the argument about capability to work by those saved did not play any role.

With the help of the two officers, as far as was possible, more Jews were brought to work at the Luftwaffe. The work increased from day to day. There were not enough experienced tailors or tailors in general as the shop needed. So they actually brought in men and women to work who were not tailors; for example, 30 who were not tailors worked with six tailors.

That was where we were at the beginning of 1943; approximately 2,500 Zawiercie Jews were working at the Luftwaffe.

We would leave in closed columns in the morning and we would also return to the ghetto this way.

During the time from 1942 to 1943, the Nazis carried out various actions. There were arbeitseinsatzen [labor deployments – forced labor] and deportations. We bled daily and night by night. When there was shooting, the bark of a dog, we thought that this was a new calamity. And there was no lack of calamities.

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During May 1943, after the uprising of the Warsaw ghetto, the Nazis carried out an “action” of ostensibly searching for weapons. Understand that in such an action there always were 100-150 victims – murdered and deported to the gas chambers. Until the second deportation, it was a difficult life for those still remaining after the first deportation, but it was not a particular shock. Rotter actually was a sadist who gnawed at the bones of those imprisoned in the Zawiercie ghetto. Whoever fell by his hands, fell, but he did not disturb general Jewish life in the ghetto until the days of disaster in August 1943.

Rotter became the Gestapo chief in Zawiercie, there was a Nazi named Folter. He was more liberal than Rotter. He was sent immediately to another office and they sent a sadistic bandit to Zawiercie.


Deportation in Zawiercie


The 24th of August 1943

Four o'clock in the afternoon, we who were working at the Luftwaffe received news that “es makht zikh di rikhtike khasonah” [a real wedding was taking place – something serious was occurring]. Bedzin, Sosnowiec, Dąbrowa were already Yidn-rein [free of Jews]. Many Jews from these cities that were overrun had received refuge in Zawiercie.

We no longer had a head for working. We looked at each other's faces with questioning glances. We could barely wait until it was six o'clock to go home and see if our nearest were still at home.

Entering the ghetto, we saw that the Jews in the ghetto had already been informed. There was great confusion. We all sensed that now would come our end. We went outside. We asked each other what had been heard. We asked each other for advice.

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The night was full of terror. Everyone felt as if the morning would bring our death. The “police curfew” was at eight o'clock at night, as always. We did not sleep the entire night. Everyone prepared their little bit of poverty, because a spark of hope smoldered with everyone: “Perhaps, if, after all.”

We sat in the dark. I was with my father-in-law, Avraham Koniecpolski, in the house.

Two o'clock at night, a hail of bullets was heard. We heard a shout from the synagogue courtyard, as if someone had been hit by a bullet.

We went out to the street at six o'clock in the morning. The tumult was even greater than when we arrived the night before: Yeshaya Plawner (Meir Perlmuter's son-in-law) lay dead at the synagogue courtyard. We buried him at once in a corner of the synagogue courtyard.

Lerner, Shimeon Hutnik's relative – a refugee from Germany – was shot during the same night, as well as Yankl Banker, who probably believed that no bullet would reach him because of his function…

This was how it appeared in the morning when I went up to my parents and they said: “Come to us, we will share the fate with you and with our grandchildren.” I brought my parents and all of their grandchildren to Koniecpolski's house, where the grandchildren from outside Zawiercie were also staying.

I put them in a bunker. Every day was a prize.

That day there were several suicides. For example, Yisroel Iser Pultorak's parents committed suicide with poison. They asked their son to leave for a time. The asked him to bury them and say Kaddish [prayer for the dead] after their death.

Their son returned. His parents already were dead. They also were buried in the synagogue courtyard. Their son recited the Kaddish.

A woman also committed suicide, a mother of children – Sztajnkeler's relative – as well as several other Jews.

* * *

We ran back and forth in the ghetto. Everyone tried to save themselves.

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Around nine o'clock, the leaders of the Zawiercie Luftwaffe factory led by Colonel Reik, the main chief, came out to the new market where the collection point was located. They held debates with the Gestapo officers from Katowice and Opole, who had specially come in connection with the aktsia [action, usually a deportation].


Collection point in a burning city


As we then learned, a sharp struggle of words took place among the leaders of the Luftwaffe factory and the Gestapo officers. The Luftwaffe officers argued that the eastern front was in need of the deliveries of the Zawiercie production being done in the Luftwaffe shops. If the thousands of Zawiercie Jews who worked at the Luftwaffe were sent away – the entire supply of this production would be in danger. “This is truly sabotage.” – argued the leaders of the Luftwaffe factory.

The Gestapo officers said: “Argue what you will, but we have an order from Berlin. At the most, we can wait another day before the liquidation of the Zawiercie ghetto. You can intervene with Berlin.”

This was the reason why the liquidation was postponed for a day. The leaders of the Jewish community interceded through their patronage in Katowice and even in Berlin. They received a negative response from there.

Returning to the office, the leaders of the factory decided to bring another proposal: let the Gestapo at least leave a few hundred specialists from all of the divisions so the factory would not remain entirely closed. They had success with this proposal.

At around 11-12 o'clock in the morning, we in the ghetto learned

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that a list of those requested was being created – approximately 400 men. I myself was among the requested ones as well as my sister (a specialist at the laundry division).

By chance, I met the chief of the Luftwaffe on the road and asked him: “What is this? People who are not craftsmen were smuggled onto the list, when, my wife, for example, a good seamstress, one of the first workers in the tailoring shop, is not on the list. I myself, although I was requested, am not on the list.”

Like a flash of lightning, the news about the list of the requested spread in the ghetto. The crowd began to run to the konsum [cooperative store]. The Germans shot at them. They could shoot at them easier because the crowd came with rucksacks and valises. Perhaps I was not killed because I did not have any packs. I only had a small pack of photographs under my arm. There was a great deal of pushing. At a given moment, the entire gendarmerie shot into the crowd with machine pistols. The dental technician, Slomnicki, Turner and Miszkow fell during this shooting. Karpin was severely wounded.

I do not know how a seriously wounded Karpin succeeded in entering the factory.

When my wife and I entered the factory, there already were 12 Jews in the new room. We saw someone seriously wounded. Blood ran from all sides – around and around. A few minutes after we entered the room, Lipnicki, the Polish surgeon, arrived. He operated on [the wounded one] by the light of a candle, in conditions that, of course, had no equal in the history of surgery. The “operation” was successful. Karpin survived and became completely healthy – until he was sent to Auschwitz.

Dr. Lipnicki was not supposed to operate on a Jew. He simply risked his life doing it. It is really worth remembering at this opportunity one of the pious and good non-Jews. Jewish doctors who were connected with the Judenrat [Jewish council] behaved a great deal worse. After the war, Dr. Lipnicki became director of the Dąbrowa hospital, Sw. Barbary [St. Barbara].

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I saw Chaiml Lewkowicz and his wife among the arriving crowd. I said to myself: “If the Gestapo sees older people among us, we are all in danger. I told this to Garbrecht. Therefore, I proposed to him the creation of a bunker at the factory so that the older people could hide until the Gestapo ceased to rampage.

Garbrecht soon agreed to this and a bunker was organized where the older people could find a place of refuge.

At two o'clock, the arrival of Jews at the factory ceased before the list was certified. Approximately 30 or 40 men had gathered by two o'clock.

At around four o'clock, a delegation from the kultusgemeinde [religious community] arrived and said that the list had been rejected by the chief of the Katowice Gestapo because there were not true craftsman on it.

Garbrecht, with great effort and the help of Colonel Reik, succeeded in creating a new list that was claimed by the Gestapo.

Meanwhile night arrived. The acceptance of people according to the new list stopped. It was supposed to be carried out the next morning.

The Jews who had entered the factory earlier did not sleep the entire night. The people sat on the floor at the light of a candle. They cried, sighed, worried about the fate of their children, wives, parents.

Various shooting was heard during the night. As we heard the next morning, tens of Jews again were murdered during this shooting.

Very early the next morning, the factory began to admit “the claimed ones” according to the list. Many who were not on the list also arrived to enter the factory; they tried to enter, as quickly as possible, the bunker that Garbrecht had permitted to be created.

Among the claimed ones was my sister Miriam Blajfer and

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her husband. My brother-in-law smuggled in his eight-month-old daughter wrapped in a coat. Another tiny child, Manya Sztajnkeler's little daughter, Shevekh Sztajnkeler's granddaughter, was successfully smuggled in by her father. The children fell asleep after being given liminal [phenobarbital] so they would not cry.

One can imagine the tragedy of the parents of the two children who Garbrecht had taken under his protection.

* * *

Thus, in the course of the morning, 500 people entered the factory. Many “claimed ones” took their wives and children with them, although they were not “claimed.”

Officers from the Gestapo and Luftwaffe came immediately after noon and verified if all of the assembled Jews were on the list of the claimed ones. They told everyone in the group to stand in a column and the officers began to read out the list. They told the “claimed ones” to stand in one row. The not claimed, that is, those who were not on the list, were told to stand in another row.

There were a few cases of men who were among the “claimed one” whose households were not on the list. The men went to the side where the unclaimed ones were standing. They relinquished their lives just to be with their families and to die with them. I remember exactly one case of this sort because it involved one of my relatives. Yehiel Yosef Szwimer, a hat maker, a good craftsman, who made military hats for all of the high officers in Zawiercie, to their great satisfaction. He was “claimed,” but his wife and two children were not on the list.

Yehiel Yosef Szwimer conspicuously left the column of the “claimed ones” and went to his wife and children who were in the other column.

Meanwhile, two large transports of goods wagons arrived at the train ramp not far from the factory. There the Gestapo packed the Jews from the ghetto and sent them to Auschwitz.

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On the 26th of August, approximately 4,500-5,000 Jews in Zawiercie were thus liquidated.

The next morning, Friday the 27th we learned in the factory that the Gestapo was searching and looking for bunkers in the houses, whether there were Jews there or not. Among others, they found Chaim Sztrausman, the Jewish communist, well-known in Zawiercie, Yudl the wagon driver's son, who during the time after returning home from Lemberg had been hiding in his watchmaker's workshop at the butcher shops. They shot him on the spot.[1]

Chaim Sztrausman was a communist believer – a visionary. Extremely honest, ready to sacrifice himself. His father was an honest toiler who tried to raise his children in the spirit of the decent, Jewish working people.

* * *

Hearing what was happening in the Zawiercie ghetto, I trembled at the fate of those closest to me – my parents, my father- and mother-in-law and their household who were hidden in the bunker in Koniecpolski's house.

The Gestapo found them on Shabbos [Sabbath] and led them with the other Jews to the collection point near the konsum [cooperative store]. We looked out of the factory and saw 150 exhausted Jews laying on the square – men, women, children – on the bare ground. Two women from among the Jews who lay on the square – the wife of Nekhemia Levental, née Lubling, and Mrs. Vajl (Reb Menl Froman's daughter] – succeeded in joining us in the factory. Their children remained in the square. Soon we saw them running around through the factory's room, where we

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were, depressed, despairing, longing for their children. Soon they decided to return outside to the general assembly place at the konsum [cooperative store], to their children, to go oyf Kiddish haShem [in the sanctification of God's name – martyrdom] with the children.

I began to run to Garbrecht for him to save those closest to me. I knew Garbrecht very well because I, as a good bespoke tailor, would make made-to-measure suits for all of the officers in the city.

Garbrecht Promised to Do Everything in His Power

Approximately 2,500 Zawiercie Jews lived here, worked for the German Luftwaffe.

Here were loaded thousands of Jews to be annihilated during deportations. The next to last, the largest deportation, took place on the 26th of August 1943. The last – the deportation of the “500 living corpses” – took place on the 17th of October 1943.



Meanwhile, news arrived at the factory that the gendarme, a German snake named Janek, had shot several Jews in the garden of the Krimolever Rebbe. Among those shot were lawyer Tosziek Bornsztajn, Josef Fiszer (a watchmaker at the old market), my brother Meir Hersh and Akiva Testelirer (newspaper distributor). There were several others among those shot, but I do not remember their names.

At the same time, two wagons arrived at the ramp of the factory for the Jews who the Gestapo had found in bunkers and hiding places after the deportation. The Nazis packed the group in the wagons and threw in among them 25-30 of those who the Gestapo had killed in various parts of the city.

Garbrecht was active again. He saved many

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hidden Jews who had been caught by the Gestapo after the last “deportation.” Among those saved were my father and my father-in-law.

When my father entered the room, the Jews who already were in the room asked him what had happened to my mother. My father said that my mother could not go with him, but she had brought together around her all of her grandchildren and she did not want to abandon them.

However, different tragedies were not lacking; mothers had to poison their own children.

Thus began the nightmarish life in the factory.

In between, we began to work. We endeavored to find a refugee for my sister's small child.

Garbrecht and a German foreman, Langer, also gave us a great deal of help there. At first, they let both children hide in the factory. Then they gave them to Christian supervision outside the factory, where the girl remained until the end of the war. We found her after the war. Now, the daughter, who is already a 15-year-old girl, lives in Israel.

The life of the 500 “living corpses” who remained in the factory over the course of six weeks (until the 17th of October 1943) was one of continuous fear. Everyone suspected that those still alive would share the fate of the martyrs. Everyone searched for a way to save his own skin. Thus passed day after day.

Meanwhile, Rosh Hashanah was approaching. A number of tradition-devoted Jews found talisim [prayer shawls] in a mysterious way unknown to me. In short, after work they began to prayer in a minyon [prayer group of at least 10 men] during the Days of Awe. This was literally a mortal danger, but these Jews did not want to abandon praying in a group during the Days of Awe.

Through various connections, I made contact with a tailor acquaintance, a Pole, a certain [Antoni] Jastrząb. He arranged for his wife to enter the factory as a Polish worker so that it would be easier for my wife to communicate

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with me. Mrs. Jastrząb entered the factory with false papers. After many requests, she agreed to take my wife out of the factory if it became urgent (my wife had an Aryan appearance and this was possible to do). The Jastrząbs did not want any money for this. From then on, we were good friends and we corresponded with each other. I hope that shortly I will have the opportunity to bring the Jastrząbs for a visit to Israel. They very much want to come.

I did not want to part with my wife as long as the situation of the Jews at the factory was still endurable, but we decided with the Jastrząbs that my wife would go to them in case danger neared.

Thus we lived in one room day after day.

* * *

The first night of Sukkous [Feast of Tabernacles] arrived. Yehiel Szwarc, Yisroel Iser Pultorak, my father-in-law, Avrahamtshe Koniecpolski, strong ones, and others erected a sukkah [structure in which to eat meals on Sukkous] in the factory.

A deaf soldier stood watch. He saw a candle in some room – he shot in the direction of the candle. The bullet reached Mechtiker and severely wounded him. Mechtiker died from the wound a few days later.

A young man, the son of the hairdresser, Hilek Grinsztajn, entered the factory on a beautiful morning. In Szopienice, he had jumped out of the transport to Auschwitz and had come to us at the factory. Today he is in America.

We breathed with difficulty until the sad evening arrived, the 16th of October 1943.

Two days earlier I went to Garbrecht and said to him: I have arranged to save my wife, but I want for us to be together until the most extreme circumstances. Garbrecht promised me to honor my request about leaving my wife in the factory as long as he could.

At night, on the 16th of October 1943, we saw the chief of the Gestapo, the bandit-sadist Rotter, and a Colonel Feller (of the Luftwaffe). We felt the slaughtering knife hanging over our throat. We

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The Nazi murderers at a “roll call” in Zawiercie


walked around trembling, worried and we did not know what to do.

At seven o'clock in the evening, Rotter and Feller, a little intoxicated, left Garbrecht (the Nazis would get drunk at every negotiation).

We later learned that the two officers demanded that Garbrecht turn over all of the Jews. At first he protested against it and again argued that this would be a disruption for production. After long debates, Garbrecht arranged that at least seven men among the best craftsmen would remain – one or two in every division.

As soon as I learned this – I, just as others, stood around the office so that Garbrecht would notice me and not forget me. I walked this way for a time. Garbrecht noticed me. He also was a bit inebriated and I did not know if I should believe him or not. He told me: “Your wife has to leave the factory today.”

Garbrecht did not tell me what would become of me and I did not dare ask him about this.

Hearing from Garbrecht that my wife had to leave the factory, I entered the women's camp, took her aside and I did not even let her take her things so that this would not attract any attention and that it not cause a commotion.

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My wife later told me that she had succeeded in saying goodbye to her father. Although Garbrecht had strongly forbidden anyone to do so – not even with one's closest relatives – [she told her father] about her plan to escape.

Thus, my wife succeeded in saving herself. Then she went through the seven divisions of hell just as the rest of those surviving Jews. However, she was saved. Thanks to this, she is still alive today.

Not only this: Jastrząb also wanted to save my sister, Manya, and my father. However, my sister did not want to go because she did want to leave her husband Gerek.

In order to characterize Garbrecht's good attributes I want to relate that he summoned my comrades, the tailors Cukrowski and Brokman, and asked them why they did not make the same arrangements for their wives as I had done for mine. Alas, those mentioned could not save their wives: Brokman's wife waited for the moment when she could go where her younger son, Malish, had been torn away during the “liquidation” – a place from which one does not return. Cukrowski's wife, alas, was a little late. She remained in the factory from which she was transported away the next morning.

* * *

Now something about Colonel Reik. Before the deportation, when the claimed ones and the unclaimed ones were gathered in the factory, Reik saw 500 Jews in the factory. Reik saw that the number was larger than the list and he would not be able to defend this to the Gestapo if the Gestapo members came to check again.

This was in the afternoon when the transport trains already were standing at the ramp, ready to leave. The Colonel saw that among the crowd were about 100 men who were not on the list. He took twenty-plus men from the 100, who he knew worked in the factory. He told them to hide in an office room in the factory. He told them to be quiet. So that the crowd would not move too much, he placed a pail for human needs in front of the door.

In the office room, which was on the second floor of the factory, over its main gate for wagons, those in hiding saw through

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windows the wagons with the “deportation” victims and they heard cries from people, who according to those who had gathered in the office, very often recognized the “deportation” victims.

In this office room also was found Mrs. Karpin and her child. The colonel said that he would save her as far as possible, but he was afraid to save a woman with a child and to draw on him the anger of the Gestapo. Alas, Mrs. Karpin had to leave the room of the saved.

* * *

On the morning of the last day of deportation, a transport wagon arrived at the ramp of the factory, onto which the Gestapo had driven all of the Jews who were in the factory, except for the seven who remained because of Garbrecht's intervention.

Garbrecht also held the seven men for an entire day for security reasons. We did not know what Garbrecht wanted to do with us and we did not want to go with him. Garbrecht took us by force and hid us.

Thus we seven Jews from a community of thousands of Zawiercie Jews remained in the factory like shadows of a headstone that hovers, trembling anxiously over the graves of their dearest, closest one.

Friend Ayzyk Rotmentsh writes in his memoirs about the further life of the seven Jews after the 17th of October 1943. I will end my memories with this.

* * *

And now – a few more words about the dark fate of the powerful ones at the Judenrat. They thought that the Nazis would let them live after the last “deportation,” given that – as is said – their security was farbrivt, that is, secured with an official letter [briv] from the Gestapo and S.S. supervisor. After the last mass “deportation,” the Gestapo told the Judenrat members: “Now we do not need you. Now comes your end.” They began to beat them with poles and chased them into the wagons.

Several of them fell at the square and ended in a terrible death.

Editors' Footnote

  1. Sztrausman succeeded in escaping to the Soviet side a little earlier. He was in Lemberg. As was said later, there he was met by a very active communist from Zawiercie. He accused Sztrausman of not having behaved well many years ago, when he, Sztrausman, was imprisoned in Kartuz Bereza. Perhaps he threatened him with something. In short: he forced him to sign a declaration that was not favorable to Sztrausman; in time, Sztrausman left Lemberg, crossed the German border and returned to Zawiercie, entrusting his fate to the mercy of the Nazis. Sztrausman lived in hiding for a time, until a bullet from the Nazis struck him. Return

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In the Vise of Death

by Chaim Turner

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Panic after the First Rumors

The panic was very strong in Zawiercie when the rumors spread about the German military's march forward. It became even stronger when the news arrived from Koczeglow (Kozieglowy) – a shtetl [town] not far from the German border – that several Jews had already perished with the arrival of the German troops.

The chaos grew throughout the city from minute to minute and particularly among the Jewish population that then numbered 70,000 souls. Jews prepared to leave the city.

The city was totally dark at the conclusion of Shabbos [Sabbath]. As if by an order, Jews – the majority were men, young and old – began to go out and leave their homes. The general opinion was that women and children should remain at home. Women persuaded their husbands to leave whereas they [the women] were persuaded that there was no danger for them. Later, it turned out that those who thought they knew the animal that was called Hitler-Germany did not know it.

When we left Zawiercie, we saw that it was not only our city that was wandering. The Jews in the surrounding cities also were wandering.

In the middle of the night, we met the Polish military who already had withdrawn from the border cities.

On Sunday morning, we arrived in Pilica. There we met Jews from the larger cities in the region (Bedzin, Sosnowiec) and from all the surrounding shtetlekh [towns].

There was indescribable fear among us all. Bad news came from everywhere. Everyone was tortured by the fear of what had happened to their wives and children and the thought that we again had to start on our way, to be exposed to hunger and cold when we only had small packs on our backs so we could march.

We wandered further, and parallel with us the Polish military was withdrawing.

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In the afternoon, we received news that the German military had already settled in distant cities and that they were marching forward. Actually, it seemed that the larger number of wanderers fell into German hands anyway; only a small number succeeded in escaping further.

After a few weeks, it seemed that the greater number of those who had left were returning one by one, while people remained in distant cities because they did not have the opportunity to return because the trains did not travel back and forth. They were afraid to go on foot. Therefore, it took a certain time before the group returned.


The arrival of the German troops


The entry of the German troops in Zawiercie did not create any Jewish victims. However, Zawiercie changed as a result like other Jewish cities in the area, which soon had victims.

In Bedzin, where there were then 30,000 souls, Jews sensed on one of the first nights the meaning of the German barbarism: when everyone was sleeping in the middle of the night, the German beasts set fire to the Jewish quarter, in which were located the synagogue, the house of prayer, the Synagogue Street surrounded by all of the Jewish houses.

There was no talk about bringing help, saving people and putting out the fire. More: Jews who made an effort to save themselves from the burning houses by jumping out of the windows from the second, third and fourth floors were shot at once by the German soldiers.

In another city in our Zagłębie – in Sławków – through which a majority of war-migrants had to pass, the Germans thought up another murderous method. There was a bridge. Under the bridge flowed deep, wide water. As someone

[Page 305]

who the German soldiers recognized as a Jew wandered over the bridge, the German beasts threw him in the water. If someone tried to save him from water, he fell from a German bullet.

The German beasts did such terrible deeds in all parts of the country right after their incursion.

* * *

Three days after the Germans occupied Zawiercie, they ordered the entire Jewish population aged 17 to 50 to appear at the assembly point. The Germans warned that whoever did not appear would be shot.

All of the Jews did actually enter the TAZ [Towarzystwo Akcyjne Zawiercie – Zawiercie Joint Stock Company] factory, where the conditions were very bad; they did not receive anything to eat or to drink and there also were no arrangements for a place for them to lay their heads. The group talked among themselves that the Nazis would send everyone to Germany to work. Yet, they all, after nine hard days under the guard of machine guns, were freed on erev [the eve of] Rosh Hashanah.

Right away the German commandant in Zawiercie demanded of our beloved Rabbi, Reb Shlomo Elimelekh Rabinowicz, may the memory of the righteous man be blessed, that he provide various goods for the military. According to the order, the items had to be provided over the course of several hours.

All of this was not enough for the Nazis. They made the Jewish businesses ownerless [to satisfy] the desire to loot by the Polish population that was looking for the opportunity to rob.

A series of payments of tributes began in Zawiercie. The Zawiercie German Mayor, Frik, sent for several esteemed Jews in the city. These were Zionists. One was the representative of Agudah [religious anti-Zionists]. He demanded of them larger sums of money. The businessmen tried to persuade him that it was impossible to mobilize the demanded sum from the plundered Jews – the commandant did not want to carry out any superfluous discussion. He pointed to his revolver and said that it would open the Jewish

[Page 306]

coffers. This was repeated constantly: Jews had to make payments every week. All of the city's necessities were covered by this money; but the poor Jewish population would not receive support from this money. And not only this: the Nazis forced the Jews to provide forced labor. Particularly on the religious holidays, Shabosim [Sabbaths] and, most particularly, on Yom Kippur – the Germans dragged all of the Jews from the synagogues and forced them to do the vilest work.

* * *

After Sukkous [Feast of Tabernacles], in the month of November 1939, the German mayor demanded a steady system of taxation. The Zawiercie business owners came to together in the premises of the organized Jewish community and they created a temporary tax system.

The task of the representatives was to provide a contingent of Jewish workers every day who could carry out all of the work of the city. Their task also was to be responsible for covering all payments.

Simultaneously with this, the Katowice Gestapo appointed the chairman of the Sosnowiec kehile [organized Jewish community] as head of all Jewish communities in Ost-Ubersilesia [East Upper Silesia], where 100,000 Jews were then assembled. Zawiercie also was included in this administrative framework.

On the 30th of September 1939, the head of the Jewish communities in East Upper Silesia came to Zawiercie and he reorganized the provisional representative body. He also enlarged it by a certain number of members. The created representation was obliged to carry out the orders of the German regime. It always did so. The task of the representatives was also to give material and medical help to the impoverished Jewish population, which grew from day to day because the “deported” Jews were sent to Zawiercie.

* * *

On the 17th of December 1939, in the morning, the news spread that a train with freight cars was going through Zawiercie,

[Page 307]

which was carrying Lodz Jews – men, women and children. An intensive action to gather food, mainly bread, was immediately carried out. The later trains that carried Jews were provided with food as much as was possible.


Nazis carry out a “deportation” at the Zawiercie train station


Among those traveling through in the cold freight wagon were those already dead – Jews who died of cold and hunger.

At the end of 1939 a high officer came to Zawiercie from the Katowice Gestapo. He demanded a total collection action of gold and silver from the Jewish population in the course of five days.

Simultaneously with this, the German mayor of Zawiercie on his part demanded large amounts of money. The representatives could not mobilize the sum during the time that the mayor had designated. The sum was paid in installments. As a punishment for not obeying the written terms, a large group of black-clad S.S. men came to Zawiercie from Katowice. They took 30 esteemed property owners in the city with them.

After holding them for several days in the Sosnowiec Gestapo headquarters in severely inhuman arrest (without food or drink; kneeling for several days and various tortures), the 30 were finally freed.

Thus came one edict after another. During the course of a few months of war, all Jewish businesses that had not yet

[Page 308]

been robbed and in which there still remained a small amount of goods were forced to remain closed until such a Jewish business was taken over by a German “trustee” (commissar). His task was to take over the business and its goods and remove the former owner of the business as much as was possible. If the previous owner was needed as a craftsman, he could remain with the business for a minimal salary. The commissar also had the right to take over the private apartment of the business owner. The larger and middle Jewish merchants also lost in one shot their source of income, their possessions and their apartment.

Smaller Jewish shops were liquidated immediately after the [German] incursion.

* * *

The material conditions of the Jews continually worsened. Jews in Zawiercie lived in poverty. However, everyone thanked God that they could still live and they were still permitted to remain in their Zawiercie – and not like the Czech Jews from the Zaolzie region [area of what is now the Czech Republic that was referred to by the Poles as “lands beyond the Olza River”] (Merisz Ostroj [Moravska Ostrava in Moravia]), whom the Nazis forced to search for a place of refuge. And actually: in April 1940, representatives of the Jews there came to Zawiercie to ascertain how many of them could be welcomed in Zawiercie and its surroundings. The expulsion decree designated that all of the Jews must leave the Czech border cities and go to other places by the 15th of May.

On the 10th of May the first transports came to Zawiercie with the (Zaolzier) Czech Jews.

At this time, it was still possible to control matters among Jews themselves and the refugees were permitted to take household items with them. It was only forbidden to take money and jewelry with them.

Every Jewish house took in a Czech Jewish family. In total, Jewish Zawiercie absorbed 600 refugees from the Czech Jews who had to be supported by the Zawiercie organized Jewish community, although before the deportation they had been esteemed Czech Jews.

After this edict, which created crowdedness in the Jewish apartments, came another terrible edict: the German regime ordered that the Jews be more fenced in and to depart all of the streets in

[Page 309]

which there lived a mixed population, as on the main streets of the city.

As a result, Jews had to move to a few streets, to a separated ghetto. The purpose was that if the Jews lived in crowded conditions, they would fall from various epidemics.

We continued to be strong and said: May it not come true; God forbid, may it not get worse. It must be said here that the Zawiercie Jews welcomed the Czech Jews extraordinarily well. We lived well together. All were very devoted to one another.

The joint suffering and hardships that we all endured from the German Gestapo united us. We actually lived as brothers.

* * *

The Zawiercie Jews received a heavy blow in November 1940. One day an order came to provide several hundred Jewish men for work in Germany. Children were taken from their parents and men from their wives. The chaos was limitless because of fear of the coming winter and because of the mistrust of the German regime. In the beginning we did not know where they were being sent. Then, after several weeks, the first letters arrived. The possibility of sending packages also was created. The poor families, from whom the only providers of food and income often was taken, suffered the most as a result of the edict for sending workers to Germany. Therefore, it occurred that the parents of a son, as well as the wives and their children suffered from hunger. Ostensibly, a certain wage was paid for the work, but this did not suffice even to buy a dry potato.

This was still too little for the Nazis. With the arrival of winter, the entire Jewish population had to provide furs, the clothing they possessed. Ostensibly, it was said this was necessary for the Wehrmacht, but the basic idea was: taking objects with value from the Jews, and so that the Jews would remain without warm clothes. According to the order, everyone who did not supply their clothing was threatened with the most severe punishment.

The Germans actually kept their word: when a fur garment was found in the possession of a Jew, he was immediately sent to Auschwitz. This meant

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A Cruel Winter Aktsia [action, usually a deportation] by the Nazis


death. The action did not end with this. They did not only ask for furs and clothing, but they began to demand everything that they needed. Thus, for example, orders would be issued about providing desks, typewriters and so on, when the Germans created a new office in the city. They demanded complete furnishings for the officials so that their residences would be well furnished. Clearly, they took the best things. At the beginning of the summer 1941, our city received a local Gestapo division. They began to interest themselves in every individual Jew. They had an exact file on every Jew. They began to come to the Jewish neighborhood every day, accompanied by specially trained wild dogs. Everyone hid when the Gestapo member appeared with his dog in the neighborhood. A child or an adult, who did not have time to escape was severely bitten by the dog. The Gestapo member removed the dog's muzzle in the Jewish neighborhood. The dog wore the muzzle in the Polish neighborhoods.

The hardships and the demands of the Nazis increased from day to day.

The Soviet-German war broke out on the 22nd of June 1941. On the same day, arrests were carried out in our city. Many Christians were arrested, as well as 10 Jews. The arrestees were

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severely tortured (bound in chains and in barbed wire when the Nazis incited dogs on them), forced to sign official reports that they belonged to the Communist Party. The next morning, they sent everyone to Auschwitz.

The Nazis then acted this way during the arrests: if they looked for a certain person and they did not find that person at home, the Gestapo and the security police immediately arrested a brother, a cousin living with them. If a relative was not in the house, they took a stranger from this house. Three days after the arrests, telegrams arrived from Auschwitz that the Jew had died in the camp. The families were informed that they could go to the Gestapo to take the clothing of the person who had perished. The process was short: completely innocent people were sent to Auschwitz and as communists they were sentenced to death.

I was sent for by the Gestapo on the same day. Actually, at the last moment, I succeeded in escaping and hiding. With luck, there was no man in our house. Two months later, there was a similar action, with the same results as previously. From then on, the Gestapo sent [Jews] to Auschwitz for the smallest sins. It constantly grew more intense. It reached the point that if someone was accused of some kind of sin, he was sent to Auschwitz or the entire family was condemned.

There were several actions from the arbeitseinsatz [labor deployments – forced labor] as well as demands for various payments of tribute during the summer 1941.

In the winter of 1941-42, the arbeitseinsatz also included girls. It became even darker in the Jewish house; the Nazis took and looted the possessions. We trembled for the Gestapo. Sons, the daughters, were stolen away.

On a March morning, in 1942, the German security police drove the entire male population from their houses. They beat them mercilessly and drove the victims to one place. At this place, they drove the unfortunate ones from one corner to another and created unnatural hardships for them. Let me give several examples:

  1. Hasidic 12-year and 13-year-old boys with peyes [side curls] were here. The beasts from the police would take two of them by the peyes
[Page 312]
    and tie them together. Thus, they had to run to the point here and there, with the mockery of the German policemen.
  1. Jews with beards had to shave one another's beards with a knife. Thus, the Nazis ridiculed Jews the entire day. In the evening, they finally permitted the sick, weak, older people as well as those who were employed in various work for the authorities to go home. Leaving the point, one had to go through a guard of honor of security police. They stood with sticks, rubber clubs, whips and they beat everyone so murderously that everyone came home bloodied.
After the difficult experiences of the actions of the arbeitseinsatzen [labor deployments – forced labor], various workshops were created in our city, which needed to carry out various work for the Wehrmacht (Luftwaffe [aerial branch of the German military]). We again believed that this would protect Jews from various hardships and annihilation. Everyone went to great lengths, particularly when a rumor spread that those not working would be deported. We already knew what being deported signified. It also was apparent that the work of Jews had no significance for the Nazi animal.

On a certain Wednesday, at five o'clock in the morning (the 16th of June 1942), a dark day arrived for our city. The Katowice and Sosnowiec Gestapo, with the help of the local security police, surrounded all of the houses in which Jews lived and drove the entire Jewish population to the new market. Those driven there were told to lie down with their faces to the ground. The members of the Gestapo and the security police walked on them. Anyone who raised his head a little was beaten to death. The dogs also helped: they tore living pieces of flesh. Thus the Jews lay for a few hours until the land-polizei [state police] brought the entire Jewish population to Zawiercie from the surrounding shtetlekh (Myszków, Siewierz, Kozieglowy, Łazy, Kromołów and Poręba). Then the selection began. Up to 7,000 Jews were assembled. The chief of the Katowice Gestapo, Dreyer, may his name be erased, made the decision about each one. At the deportation, he designated 1,650 people whom the Nazis brought to the factory building – everyone pressed together with one another. That is how the Nazis held them until Thursday at three o'clock in the afternoon. The most distinguished and respected businessmen left then. During this, the Nazis placed a passenger train of 20 wagons to mislead those being

[Page 313]

deported. The members of the Gestapo said that the people were being sent to work and, therefore, they had provided a special passenger train. They even declared that everyone was permitted to take their best clothing with them to change into after work. They told the unfortunate ones to take along food for a few days.

When the train left, we learned from a train official that the train had gone in the direction of Auschwitz.

The train left at four o'clock in the afternoon. Three hours later they already were at Auschwitz. It is difficult to relate the mood in the city after this deportation: there were people missing from every house, or entire families were liquidated. How vilely cynical the Gestapo was can be seen from the fact that the next morning they presented the Jewish community with a bill and they demanded that the Jewish population should cover the costs for the distance from Zawiercie to Auschwitz for 1,650 people who were deported. The deportation was carried out by the Katowice Gestapo, with the S.S. Captain Dreyer, may his name be erased, at the head. Although our city did not directly belong to the Katowice Gestapo, by carrying out the deportation, at the same time, they also spread their rule over Zawiercie.

Still under the impact of the first deportation, Zawiercie then had a new hardship: a second deportation came five weeks later, carried out by the chief of the Gestapo in Opole (to which Zawiercie belonged). He did this together with the Zawiercie Gestapo and the security police.

The Zawiercie Gestapo had the idea of carrying out the second action in such a manner; that if the [non-local] Gestapo could carry out actions, we could, of course, do evil to our own Jews.

It meant that they were sending away those who did not work. However, the Gestapo took everyone out of the Jewish houses that pleased them. During this action the members of the Gestapo assembled about 150 Jews. They gave them a very difficult time. Specially trained, angry dogs took pieces of flesh [from them]. The voices of the tortured Jews reached far away. At that time, the Gestapo did not make it a secret that the assembled Jews were sentenced to death. No one was permitted to take with them a little bit of clothing and no food. They were chased to the train station. There they immediately were loaded

[Page 314]

into cattle cars – simply thrown together without any mercy. The situation was such that just traveling on the train for three hours was impossible to endure. The second group had the same fate as the first, that is, it was annihilated by an Auschwitz death. It must be recorded that from both transports that departed from Zawiercie in 1942 for Auschwitz (in total 1,800 martyrs) – no one survived.

After both actions, it was understood that those who remained in the city would be able to remain. In general, they would be able to work for the Wehrmacht. Soon after both deportations, a new edict was issued: “ghetto.”

Immediately: The Zawiercie Gestapo ordered that the ghetto must be closed and more narrowly squeezed together than until now. Special fences with barbed wire were erected. There were several entrance gates, for which the Gestapo held the keys. They warned that Jews could not leave the ghetto. Every Jew who was found outside the ghetto would be shot, they said. Inside the ghetto, Jews had to build new passageway gates. They had to chop through walls from one house to another and create streets through a passageway from one house to another. Instead of walking, as before, through the streets, Jews now went through temporary passageways in houses. At the same time, about 70 percent of the Jewish population worked for the Wehrmacht and for the city managing committee. At six o'clock in the morning, those working left for their workplaces in closed ranks. At six o'clock at night, they marched into the ghetto in closed ranks. Small children and old people remained in the ghetto. The Gestapo made use of this and constantly carried out small actions against anyone who did not work and, therefore, remained in the ghetto. Groups were constantly sent away to Auschwitz. In addition: if the Gestapo suspected a certain person, that he was guilty of something, his entire family was liquidated, brothers, sisters, father, mother, as well as children.

Three generations were erased at once in such a manner.

Although everyone clearly saw what was happening – constant liquidations and decreasing the number of Jews – everyone ran to work. Everyone was certain that this would save them. Everyone

[Page 315]

hoped for a miracle. Each one believed that perhaps he would succeed in persevering. They also believed and hoped that the American President Roosevelt would intervene and persuade the Germans to cease the annihilation of the Jews. The winter of 1942-43 drew close, when everyone already knew that Hitler had a true defeat on the Russian front. This provided the basis to hope that he would collapse. They also constantly convinced us that everyone who could work would remain until the end of the war.

The young people searched for a way to enter the forest, but it appeared impossible. They tried to speak with the representatives of the Christians, who were in constant contact with the forest. Unashamed, they openly declared that there was no place for Jews. It was learned that there was a group of A.K. [Armia Krajowa – Home Army – main Polish resistance group] in the forests in our area. This was the same group that carried out pogroms and various other actions against Jews. Therefore, they did not permit Jews to join them there.

The Christians promised us and told us to wait patiently. They said that strong activity was being carried out on their side and that they were preparing an uprising that would include a part of Poland – from Upper Silesia to Warsaw. However, it was apparent that during the very hard, difficult times, that not only did they not help, but they were happy that we were being annihilated.

A few months passed without actions. However, the mood was tense because terrible news arrived from everywhere: the large cities already were liquidated, except for a few cities in which a few Jews remained (Łódź, Kraków, Częstochowa).

Summer 1943, when we constantly sat in the ghetto in fear, we received news from Auschwitz through a Christian, a Czech, who worked there. He brought a Hebrew note from a Krakow young Jewish acquaintance. They asked that we help in any way we could. We maintained constant contact with the Czech, the partisan. He came to a certain meeting place every Shabbos and every week we received news from him about what was happening at Auschwitz. Eighty to 90 percent of every transport was immediately sent to annihilation, he said. Only a small percent was selected to work.

[Page 316]

We could only send food and money, which we collected from the poor and the rich, however much we could and we sent what was collected to our unfortunate brothers. After a certain time, the Czech partisan stopped coming for reasons unknown to us.

At the same time, we who were locked in the ghetto received news that the Zionist organization in Bedzin had contact with the Zionists who were in Switzerland. Their activity, we were told, consisted of creating passports as Uruguayan and Paraguayan citizens for Zionists of all opinions. The former council of the Zawiercie Zionist organization was immediately assembled to make contact with the Zionist organization in Bedzin, which was carrying out the work. A spark of hope had appeared.

After a few meetings of the council, a list of useful Zionist activists was compiled. They were supposed to be the first to receive passports to be interned as citizens of neutral countries. Alas, after a short time, it was revealed that it was too late to carry this out at a fast pace. The liquidations took place of approximately 70,000 Zagłębie Jews. Shabbos [Sabbath], at night, on the first of August 1943, the ghettos in Bedzin and Sosnowiec were surrounded by a heavy guard. The liquidation action, which lasted for a few days, began early Sunday.

After the savage destruction of Bedzin-Sosnowiec, no Jewish communities existed in the entire area, except for Zawiercie. There lived approximately 5,000 Jews, actually with mercy, because we were employed by the Wehrmacht and were a useful element that should not be liquidated.

Even after the destruction of Bedzin-Sosnowiec, we all had the illusion that Zawiercie would not be so quickly liquidated because the Wehrmacht had need of our work on new, warm clothing for the German soldiers on the Russian front. The constant German defeats on the Russian front particularly awoke hope in us that the Germans would no longer have time to liquidate us.

However, we immediately experienced a bitter disappointment. Two weeks after the destruction of Bedzin-Sosnowiec, the Katowice Gestapo arrived in Zawiercie to determine with the members of the Luftwaffe the period for our liquidation. One afternoon, news arrived that the ghetto

[Page 317]

was surrounded. A few Jews searched for a way to escape. The majority did not even look for a way to escape because the general opinion was that there was nowhere to run.

The escapees were caught by the police or the Gestapo and shot nearly at once. It also was a fantasy to hide with a Pole because they would denounce [the Jews]. The general opinion was actually that it was better to go to Auschwitz. Perhaps one would be among the 10-20 percent who would have the luck to survive.

The next morning all of the Jews had to assemble in one place. The Gestapo ordered us to bring clothing and underwear because we were being sent to work. We were at the assembly place almost an entire day. The members of the Gestapo searched the masses assembled for the people with whom they had been in contact the entire time – particularly the main people at the Judenrat.

They took particular revenge against them. They beat them with murderous blows and torture. Then the members of the Gestapo shot them.

It was difficult for everyone to survive the day. At night, we began to march to the TAZ -factory. There we were supposed to be loaded into wagons, with the destination of Auschwitz. When we went to the factory, we had to pass through a small strip where the Gestapo stood and they mercilessly beat each one with rubber and iron clubs.

When we came nearer to the factory, the Gestapo members demanded that we give them the money or gold we each had with us. It was clear that no one dared not give them what they demanded. However, even this did not help. They continued to beat us mercilessly. Thus we arrived at the factory square where they were supposed to load us into the wagons.

A train from the front, heavily armed by the military, arrived. Everyone entered the first wagon quickly and helped the families there enter even faster so they would not be beaten. Every wagon was sealed and heavily guarded.

We constantly heard shooting as we traveled. It is possible this was to frighten us because there were then cases of Jews who jumped out of the train, although that meant certain death.

[Page 318]

When we were in the sealed train wagons, we did not understand that we needed to say goodbye to our dearest and nearest – perhaps, because of the strong fear of thinking about this. This was our great mistake. We never saw them again.

Late at night, at the beginning of September, we arrived at Auschwitz. The members of the Gestapo screamed wildly when they unsealed the wagons. They ordered that we leave everything that we had brought with us and to leave the wagons.

The first impression of Auschwitz was: we found ourselves in a large factory center. Everything was heavily illuminated. However, our souls were sad and dark – we immediately left the wagons.

We had to stand in a row. A Gestapo man with a stick showed everyone to go right or left. This was either to life or to death.

We began to understand the great destruction: a young man or a young woman, who looked physically healthy was placed at a point which signified life. On the other hand, older men or older women – to an opposite point. Parents were torn apart from their young children.

We saw and we understood what was happening here. Early in the morning we saw that from a transport of 5,000 Zawiercie Jews, only 400 so called “capable of working” people remained. What happened to our 4,600 dear Jews during the night? We understood after being in Auschwitz for a day.

Jews who had been at Auschwitz a little longer than we argued with us when they met us – why had we come here, we should have jumped out of the train before coming here.

I, the writer of these lines, arrived in the same camp with seven sisters and with their 10 children. Only one sister remained of them. The same fate was had by the other thousands who came here.

The first day we were shown the gas chambers. They burned without interruption, 24-hours a day. Our closest and dearest perished there in a frightful, bestial manner.

[Page 319]

When we came out for work at six in the morning and when we returned from work at six in the evening, we constantly saw the fire from the gas chambers in which thousands of people perished every day.

Although we had a concept of what Auschwitz was, we could not think about it very much because we were tortured by the hunger. Every day, our camp comrades fell from hunger. Every day our numbers decreased. It often happened that two comrades went to sleep together on a wooden plank in a block. The next morning, one of the comrades no longer was alive.

The era from August 1943 to January 1945 was a tragic chapter. When the Russians approached, the Germans sent us to another death camp (Mauthausen-Ebensee). We were liberated from there by the American Army on the 6th of May 1945.


Organization of Former Residents
of Zawiercie remembers the souls of the Zawericie martyrs

Seen on the photo (from right to left): Zigelbaum, Y.Y. Dresner, Y.D Erlichman, Y. Finkel, Rabbi A. Szpira, A. Zaks, the cantor, Sh. Fajgenblat


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