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[Page 376]

Fellow Zawiercie Natives in the Ghetto
and the Concentration Camps

by Dr Yisroel Bornstein

Translated from Yiddish by Alain Bornstein

Surely many others will write about the odysseys of the Jews of Zawiercie after the first bombing of the city, as well as about the escape of almost all Zawiercie residents to Piltz. Therefore I will not elaborate on that account. All I will add is that amongst the refugees in Piltz[1] there were also Jews from Bedzin, Sosnowiec and from other Cantons in Zaglembie.

Before the refugees had managed to figure out what their next step (on Monday morning) would be, the German tanks and troops were already standing in the town square in Piltz. The German beasts immediately shot dead a few Poles and Jews. Polish hooligans took advantage of the disorder and started robbing Jewish businesses, with the pretext that Jews were hiding merchandise to sell on the black market. My grandmother's store, too, was plundered. The hooligans continued the plundering until a German officer passed by and forbade them to continue.

I personally remember the bloody Wednesday (March 1941) because that was when I was sent to a work camp. According to what I heard later, there was a second bloody Wednesday in 1942.

On the first bloody Wednesday, the first big raid took place when the Nazis pulled hundreds of Jews from their beds. Accompanied by beatings and shootings, these Jews were packed into the hall of Berent's textile factory. The Nazis pulled out the beards and payot[2] of many Jews. There were many dead.

I too was pulled–out of bed by the Nazis. I barely got dressed and they were beating and pushing me with their rifles, they shoved me down the stairs. I still managed to behold my mother's crying eyes, which accompanied me into the deep, dark night.

I never saw my mother again.

On that night the Nazi murderers rounded up many victims like me.

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I was sent–off by the Nazi beasts to a camp in Germany. There we built the motorway. Afterwards I was sent from one camp to another, and I witnessed the suffering and death of many Zawiercie Jews.

In 1943, after much wandering, I arrived in the camp of Markstadt (30km from Breslau–Wratislav). There were many Zawiercie Jews there. The conditions for many of them were very harsh and inhumane. One of the most beloved young men of Zawiercie, Lipa Shpeizer, passed away there. Avrohom Habermann and Tchebiner, the eldest of the Tchebiner brothers (a brother–in–law of Yoske Yoskowicz), also died in the Markstadt camp. Tchebiner was taken away on a transport, to destruction.

In Markstadt I also met my uncle, Leib Libermentsch, who arrived there in 1942. His wife and their one year old child were sent by the Nazis to Auschwitz. He was murdered by the S.S. a few hours before the liberation by the Americans (April 1945). He lies in a mass grave in Eggenfelden (Bayern, Germany).

At the camp I was assigned to work with a German socialist, a Nazi opponent. Thanks to him I was able to keep up correspondence with my parents, who were still living in the Zawiercie Ghetto. Thanks to him, I was also able to help fellow Zawiercie residents, such as Hersh Hochberger and Mordechai Shlechter. Sadly, both of them perished during the last weeks of the war, in the year 1945.

* * *

In 1943 I received a letter from my parents, through the above mentioned German, that they were already sitting on their bags waiting for the train to Auschwitz.

Tens of Zawiercie residents in the camp had family members in the Zawiercie ghetto. We all knew that now the fate of our loved ones was sealed. We felt even more resigned that our turn would come next. Our premonition about the lot of our loved ones sadly turned into reality and took on dreadful forms

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like the death of the Kedoshim[3] in the house on 21 Hoshe Street about which I found out much later. In that house a bunch of elderly Jews hid in a cellar during a raid, knowing well that during such a time they would be the first victims. These Jews decided to remain locked up in that cellar and to die there of hunger and thirst. Amongst those Jews were Reb Henich Bentzlovics and my grandfather Reb Mottel Borenstein.

Two weeks later, the cleaning–up commando of Jews, who still remained in the TAZ[4] factory, removed these Kedoshim from the cellar and gave them Jewish burial. My father's brother, Yisroel Yitzchok (also a brother of Yessochor Borenstein of Tel Aviv), who later was killed from an S.S. bullet in the Buna camp on Rosh Hashanah 1944, was a member of this commando. He was very active in the“Zeirei Mizrachi” and very beloved amongst his friends.

At the end of 1943, a new department was formed near the camp where I was incarcerated. Its name was“the Fünfteichen camp”. Many Zawiercie residents ended up there. I took advantage of the kindness and gentleness of my colleague and protector, the humane German, Wilhelm Hermann. He took me to the workplace of the Zawiercie residents under the pretext that we must carry out some work there. I was able to meet up with many acquaintances, amongst them Yisroel Hermann and my uncles Yoske Meisels and Hillel Zimmerman. We were strictly forbidden from talking to each other, but under great danger Yisroel Hermann nevertheless spoke to me. He told me about the ghetto and about Auschwitz where he had been with my father. As he started telling me about my father's last will (may his death be avenged), an S.S. man suddenly arrived. He pulled me away and started hitting me because I was conversing with an inmate. A couple of days later Hermann died from a terrible beating. After the above incident with the S.S. man, I had not had the chance to speak with him or see him. My uncles, too, died a few weeks later from beatings. Before their deaths I used to help them regularly, procuring tobacco (through which they tried getting hold of bread). But the supervisors – Polish Katset[5] members – would always confiscate the tobacco from them and, on top of that, beat them badly too. Hillel Zimmerman died first from these terrible tortures and later Yoske Meisels succumbed as well.

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The dead bodies of the Kedoshim were taken by the Nazis to the head–camp Grossrosen, where they were burnt in a crematorium.

* * *

At the end of 1943, the Nazis also transferred our camp to Fünfteichen. In January 1945, when the Red Army marched in the direction of Breslau, the Nazis led our camp on foot to the main camp in Grossrosen.

It was a march of a few days on foot – a death march because those who could not walk were instantly shot dead.

While I describe this march, I would like to mention the heroism of a young teen, Yaakov Bloch, a son of the butcher from Myszków. This boy used to carry sick people in his arms when they did not have the strength to walk. By doing so he saved them from sure death. He also used to oppose a group of Polish and Ukrainian inmates when they acted abusively. One night, while we were lying down, they pulled out a few Jews – mostly weak people – and strangled them in order to take from them their piece of bread. We, the Zawiercie residents who used to keep together, noticed this terrible crime, but we were starving and dehydrated and did not have the strength to move.

Again we witnessed how the Ukrainians and Poles pulled out a Jew with the intention of murdering him. Suddenly Bloch got up. He removed his boots from his feet and started hitting them right and left – so much that a few of them fell down dead. Then they started fighting amongst themselves and robbing their own fallen and dead friends. From then on they did not dare to attack the Jews anymore.

This dear boy Yaakov Bloch, who always helped and tried assisting his Jewish brethren to survive this terrible time, was shot dead by the S.S. in Grossrosen when he tried to escape in March 1945.

After a few days of bloody wanderings we arrived in the main camp of Grossrosen. There we found many thousands of inmates from Auschwitz. There wasn't any place to lie down, not even on the floor.

[Page 380]

The Rabbi of Kromolow(1) and the Rabbi of Zawiercie, Rabbi Szlomo Elimelech(2),
coming out of Katowicz railway station


Here, in Grossrosen, I found the Zawiercie Rabbi, Rav Shlomo Elimelech. Despite the fact that he was physically completely broken, he was filled with optimism and faith that the end of Nazis was coming near. He recounted to me how the Zawiercie residents in Auschwitz had helped him. Zawiercie girls used to smuggle flour to him. They even managed to bake him challot for Rosh Hashanah.

He would greatly praise Regina Rosenzweig (now in Haifa) and Dora Pultorak, who supported him with food under the most difficult circumstances.

Many people acted towards the Rabbi like his Chassidim. They honoured him greatly and tried to help him as much as possible. Jews were jealous of me when they saw me walking alone with the Rabbi and conversing for a long time.

When we had to leave Grossrosen on another death–march, the Rabbi – who was unable to walk – remained behind. The S.S. shot him dead.

Another person who was very beloved in Zawiercie, Yitzchok Kartush, was also shot to death during that march.

* * *

[Page 381]

After weeks of marching, during which thousands of inmates lost their lives, I started to feel that my strength was leaving my battered skeleton. Nevertheless I continued walking. In the middle of April, I arrived at a camp in which there were several Zawiercie residents.

I knew that the Red Army was positioned not far from Berlin and that the Allied forces had already defeated the Nazi military. However, I too was totally crushed. I was just skin and bones. I felt like my soul was lying on my lips and that my days were numbered. I was terribly tortured by the thought: It was clear to me that the Nazis were being conquered, but, but – would I survive and be a free man again?

Yes, I knew that the end of the Nazis was a question of days, but – would I survive those few days?

The Nazis transferred me to the camp in Mühldorf, which was a branch of the Dachau camp.

I was only there for a few hours when I heard someone calling my name:“Borenstein, Borenstein!”

Who could be calling me here? I thought to myself. Who knows about me?

I did not have to wonder for too long. It was Stützky, who used to live in Ogrozensky and later in Zawiercie. (There he was my father's pupil in Zeirei Mizrachi). Stützky brought me a plate of camp soup with a few potatoes. My hopes of surviving the misery became more realistic.

After this nice reception he brought me potatoes every day. Other Zawiercie residents in the camp also supported me with food. Those were Osher Passerman, the Cymbler brothers (today of New York) and Moshe Chaim Goldstein.

At the end of April the Nazis wanted to transfer us to the Tyrol Mountains, in order to destroy us there. They packed us into boxcars and transported us in the direction of Munich.

While we were in transit, the Americans mounted an offensive and captured the train tracks.

[Page 382]

We were free.

We left the boxcars. We, the Zawiercie residents – Stützky, the Cymbler brothers, Moshe Chaim Goldstein, Osher Passerman and a son of the baker from“Small–Zawiercie” whom we called“ Rontschkele” – kept together. We went over to a farmer and procured some food. Outside the American and German soldiers were engaged in battle. After a short while the S.S. entered the farm and drove us out of the house.

When we came outside we saw another group of S.S. murderers taking a group of Jews and killing them. The S.S. men, who had taken charge of us, drove us back into the train wagons. On the way to the wagons, they shot the boy who was always ready to help, Moshe Chaim Goldstein, the good hearted Stützky and the young boy Rontschkele. They were buried in a mass grave together with other Kedoshim from the mass murder. The grave is situated 20km from Munich, in a forest near the train station Poing.

In the morning the American liberated us. For a long time we remained standing by the mass grave where our Zawiercie brothers lay, who, even in extreme hunger, had shared their last potato with another.

Sadly, they did not survive“the last minute before twelve”: they died twenty four hours before the actual liberation, when they could have become free men.

Standing by the mass grave, we swore that we would take revenge on the Nazis and carry a“Yizkor plaque” in our heart – for the future generations of our people – on which is engraved these two burning words:“Al Tishkach – Don't Forget!”



Translator's Footnotes

  1. Pilica, Poland Return
  2. “Payot” is the Hebrew word for sidelocks or sidecurls. Payot are worn by some men and boys in the Orthodox Jewish community based on an interpretation of the Biblical injunction against shaving the“corners” of one's head. Return
  3. The term“kedoshim” is sometimes also to refer to the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, because these people fulfilled the commandment of bringing honour, respect, and glory to G–d. Return
  4. The textile factory started by the Ginsberg brothers was called the“Towarzistwo Aktzine Zawiercie” or TAZ – meaning“Zawiercie Incorporated.” Return
  5. “Katset” appears in other Yizkor books: It is an acronym for the German abbreviation KZ, for konzentrationslager, i.e., concentration camp. Return

[Page 383]

The Last Three Days of Jewish Zawiercie

by Tzvi Czebiner

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund


In the month of August 1943, Zawiercie was one of the last cities in which there was still a ghetto with a few thousand Jews. The so-called General Government was already Juden-rein [free of Jews]. The region that the Nazis called Ost-Oberschlesien [eastern Upper Silesia] - Sosnowiec, Bedzin, Zawiercie and its surroundings - was the only one in Poland where Jews believed they were “chosen,” whom the Nazis would not send to the labor and annihilation camps because that is what the chief of the Luftwaffe factory in Zawiercie believed.

The impulse to live stimulated those surviving Zawiercie Jews to blindly believe that this is how it would be - until... until the well-known Monday when the last deportation began.

This Monday was a “normal” day like the other “normal” days in the ghetto where we struggled daily for our lives.

The Jews were at work in the factory as usual. And here, in the afternoon, Avraham Yakov Hecht (then a Jewish militiaman) was entering just as work was ending, He brought the Jews working there the news that the ghetto was surrounded by German police.

We immediately grasped that the fate of the Zawiercie Jews was sealed and it would not be a hair different from the fate of the remaining Jews in Poland.

It was natural that despite this justified hypothesis, everyone wanted to live and escape from this fate. Everyone kept their eyes on the members of the Judenrat [Jewish Council] because rumors spread that a certain number could remain in the ghetto.

Everyone wanted to be a fortunate survivor. The exception. Everyone also knew about the previous aktsie [deportation], that the members of the Judenrat were able to make use of the transported people for money, gold, and diamonds and they were exchanged for people who were not on the list, simply because they were poor people and could not ransom themselves with money and so on.

[Page 384]

In this case, the leaders of the Judenrat needed the money in order to bribe the Gestapo and the German police. To a certain extent, it was correct, but they themselves lived well as a result and there was even talk of orgies with their “favored” [female] friends. They even gifted the young women with clothing and other things that remained from the people whom the Germans had deported during the aktsie. And this, when other families went to work with only a piece of bread that was not sufficient to even satisfy the initial hunger.

* * *

Let me be permitted to relate as an example how these people provided for their own pockets.

The “finance minister” of the Judenrat, after the murder of the most respected member of the Judenrat in the afternoon on the day of the last deportation in the Zawiercier ghetto, found himself close to me and my brother on the way to the train wagons to Auschwitz. The Gestapo was searching for him and called his name out loud. He knew what had happened to his colleagues in the Judenrat and he hid among the crowd that the Nazis were leading to the train wagons.

A Gestapo man came close to us, looking for the members of the Judenrat who were hiding among the other Jews. Seeing this, the member of the Judenrat gave my brother, Dovid, a fully-packed small bag that was wrapped in cloth and asked him to hide the bag. At first, Dovid did not know what was in the wrapped cloth, but he immediately realized that there were diamonds in the small bag.

At that moment, the Nazis took several Jews, as well as my brother Dovid, from the rows to clean out the building where the Judenrat had been. My brother used this opportunity and, in the Judenrat building, he threw the bag into a ceramic-tile [heating] oven because he was afraid to have such a bag.

Thus, these people who had the upper hand carried out the orders of the Gestapo without any feeling of regret and without moral hesitation, believing that this would help to save their miserable sinful bodies after the bloody orgies of the Nazis. They also believed that after the bloody-

[Page 385]

flood in which one's own brothers and sisters, plagued and exhausted, were drowned - they would be able to make a living by saving possessions.

Only one of the leaders of the Judenrat, a man with a university education had a premonition of the bloody end of the members of the Judenrat. He often said: our days are numbered; we will go the same way as all of the other Jews.




Before the last bloody finale, which I described above, was played out, the group did not imagine that there would be such a general slaughter.

The Jewish workers at the Luftwaffe went home with their gazes turned to the Judenrat members with the thought of how to save their lives.

We went home as usual, in columns of up to five men like soldiers. Alas, everything was drilled. And old Jews without beards marched along in the ranks.

We went to the old market. The question, “Would we see each other again tomorrow on the way to work at the Luftwaffe?,” bore into everyone's hearts.

However, barely setting foot on the threshold of our houses, we noticed the change: a ring of policemen and Wehrmacht [Nazi armed forces] had encircled the entire ghetto. Seeing this, we already knew that our day had come. The Judenrat had conceded in the evening that we should prepare ourselves for everything in the morning because everyone would be sent away to the work camps.

The next day, immediately in the morning, the Nazis gathered all of the Jews on the square of the Judenrat.

We breathed a little at the assembly place because

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we were told that we should return home because they did not know when the deportation would be carried out and, in general, what would become of us.

The Germans ordered all of us to remain in our houses and that no one should leave their residence.

Tuesday evening, two Jews who had guard functions, Yakov Banker and Lerner (the latter, Sh. Hutnik's brother-in-law), wanted to go to the Judenrat in connection with their function. They were both murdered on the way: Lerner, when he crossed the Warta bridge near Chaim Yeshayahu Drezner's [house]; Banker in another place on the way to the Judenrat.

At night on Tuesday, after just sitting, not eating, not sleeping for the entire Tuesday, we did not close an eye. We sat the entire night until Wednesday morning in a Yom-Kippur mood.

Wednesday, early, the Judenrat told everyone to appear at the square of the Judenrat building. There, ordinary Jews assembled as well as the old, the sick and children. Everyone carried a rucksack on their shoulders.

A sad picture appeared before us - no less than the heart being cut seeing tiny children, exhausted and tortured, going to Auschwitz with all of the Zawiercie Jews.

My three sisters were not with me. They were in a bunker that I had arranged for our family and for several other families.

There was room in the bunker for more than 20 people. I myself had not yet entered the bunker because I was waiting for my parents with whom I wanted to enter the bunker.

My parents were late. Meanwhile, neighbors learned that I had a bunker and they filled it. There actually was no more room for me, my parents, for my wife and child, as well as for my sister-in-law and her two children.

Those who had entered the bunker before us remained in the factory for three months, until the city became Juden-rein [cleared of Jews]. I,

[Page 387]

who had myself made the bunker, on which I had drudged for many days, along with my family, could not enter it because it was too fully packed with others. So, we actually were caught and together - father, mother, one sister and sister-in-law and their children, we were led to the train wagons to Auschwitz. Arriving at the wagons, near the ramp, not far from the T.A.Z. [Towarzystwo Akcyjne Zawiercie - Zawiercie Joint Stock Company] factory, the captured Jews threw themselves into the train wagons, as if they wanted to wait there in the train wagons, after waiting two days in which they did not know what would happen to them.

After we entered the train wagon, the members of the Gestapo barred the wagon doors from outside. It was then that we saw what awaited us.

In the train wagons people told about a banquet lunch that the Jewish intermediary between the Gestapo and the Judenrat had held in his residence for the Gestapo members, in the presence of the most important leaders of the Judenrat. However, we later saw the Nazis dragging these members of the Judenrat to the train wagons and murderously beating them so that they asked the Nazis to shoot them. The Hilterists shot them in front of our eyes and then threw their corpses into the train wagons in which we were.

Then, the train with our train wagons began to move.

Arriving, the Nazis drove us from the train wagons. They told us to lay all of our packs in one pile. Women and children were placed separately. At first, they tore away my parents, my wife and my child as well as my sister-in-law and her two children.

The Nazis loaded the women and children on trucks. The older people were placed at the side, so that I was not even able to speak a word to anyone and say goodbye to them.

Thus were my dearest and most precious ones torn away from my heart. I no longer heard anything from anyone and never saw any of them again.

[Page 388]

Nazi Edicts in Zawiercie

by Chaya Senderowicz-Soika

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

One of the edicts and harassments of the Nazis, right after they took Zawiercie, on the 1st of September 1939, was to turn over radio apparatuses.

A tragic victim of this edict, poor thing, was my father, Yosef-Hersh Soika (Reb Shmuel Soika's son). We had a new and expensive radio apparatus. We did not know that the Nazis were such beasts and, in our naivety, thought the German occupation would perhaps be a little harsher than the German occupation of the First World War, but not more. It actually did not occur to us that everything that seemed like a trifle in our eyes would smell of blood.

It was a pity for us to give away such an expensive radio apparatus (particularly, as we were so naïve and thought that the German wave would soon pass and the Germans would soon leave Poland); we hid the apparatus in the attic of our house at the 3rd of May Street, number 5.

Instead of the good radio apparatus, my father surrendered, according to the order, an unused radio that was in the apartment. He hung a card on the radio with his name. He carried out the order and we thought that we had fulfilled the obligation [of the edict].

We, to our misfortune, did not know that the Hilterists made use of the Polish janitors, caretakers (house watchmen) as their confidents. Our janitor noticed something of the matter and because of hatred of Jews or because he hoped to receive a reward for reported it to the police.

The same day four German gendarmes came to us. They searched the entire apartment. Something drew them to the attic (because they had received exact instructions from the janitor).

They found the radio apparatus and arrested my father.

* * *

[Page 389]

Who could know that not carrying out the edict about the radio apparatus (we had turned in one) would bring such frightening results?

First, the Nazis held my father imprisoned in Zawiercie and then sent him to Czenstochow to be tried. They beat and flogged him without mercy and accused him of taking part in politics and listening to radio transmissions from the enemy.

I did everything possible. His earlier principle, Arkuszewski, the yeast landowner “Pilica” made a great deal of effort for his sake. Finally, they received confirmation from esteemed Christians in Zawiercie that my father had never been politically active nor his family over the course of generations.

This, as it appeared, was successful. After a few weeks, my father was freed – but he was already physically and spiritually broken.

* * *

Our house was the first house in Zawiercie that was made Juden-rein [free of Jews]. This was at the end of September 1939. The Germans, with revolvers in their hands, demanded that we leave our apartment and house over the course of a few hours. We had to leave everything and could only take a few valises with clothing. Winter had already begun, and we had prepared coal, food, potatoes, cabbage, and other greens for the entire winter. We had to leave everything.

The Judenrat [Jewish Council] had already begun to serve and help the Germans in their shameful deeds. We received a large room from the council at Cantor Unger's house at Sonowa Street (the Tarbut school [secular Hebrew language school] was once located there).

However, we did not have any rest. There was a denunciation that Jews in this house were trading fabric on the black market. They turned every apartment in the house at Sondowa inside out, but they did not find anything except a few remaining [pieces of] linen with the widow Rubinowicz from Szczekociny, which the Nazis took to textile business. She drew a poor living from the little remaining [fabric] that they had saved [from detection by the Nazis]. She had the remaining [fabric] hidden in the cellar.

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The Nazis again took my father and my brother, Hendl (as well as the cantor, Unger) to the police. There a few gendarmes murderously beat them for a few hours. When one gendarme grew tired, another one began to do the beating. When the one being beaten fainted, the gendarmes poured water over him and again beat him.

I, with the help of Yisroel Karpin of the Kaufmans (from Blanowice [near Czenstochowa]), as well as Perlmuter's son-in-law, Lewkowicz, who then was connected to the police, bribed the Nazis. The three Jews were freed after a few hours of beatings.

However, they were black from the blows, and full of bruises. Their underclothing and clothing were saturated with blood and with water with which the Nazis had ostensibly revived them when they fainted.

Neither my father nor my brother nor Cantor Unger had the strength to go home by themselves. They really could not stand on their feet and they dragged themselves along the walls of the houses.

We placed my father and brother in bed, and made cold compresses for them day and night. They lay this way for many weeks. We were afraid to call doctors in order not to awaken the attention of the regime.

* * *

They had barely come to themselves when a new edict was issued: every Jew had to move to a special Jewish quarter. Again, we had to leave the remainder of the things we had saved and move into a new ghetto. We received a room from the Judenrat at Bochenek's house at Czasna Street, number 7.

Einsatzen [deployments – forced labor] began immediately. In the beginning, young men were caught. Gendarmes came from the nearby area to help the local Germans. At night, they surrounded the entire Jewish ghetto-quarter. They rampaged and pillaged every house. They would drag Jewish men to the market and beat and torture them ruthlessly. Hidden in a hiding place in the attic during a few such searches was my father, along with my brother Hendl and the Zawericier rabbi, the Rabbi Baum, who

[Page 391]

also lived in the house. Here was Yosef Diamant's son-in-law, (then Yokl Froman's son-in-law,) or in the reverse order.

A little later, the einsatzen began against young girls. The Judenrat also helped the Germans with this. I received a notice to report. My parents ran to the municipal office and asked that I not be taken because I could help with the office work of their business because of my education. The compromise was that instead of me, my younger sister, Karoltshe (Krayndl) would go. I would remain in Zawiercie; thus, it was decided jointly.

I was against the sacrifice of Karolan [Karoltshe] and I also did not trust the Judenrat and was suspicious that after it received my sister, they would also ask for me.

We actually hid. Every night we left the house. We stayed with my father's uncle Benyamin (Yoma) Sioka, the watchmaker who lived on Blanowicer Street. The police seldom came to take a look at him because they knew him as an old man and a widower who had no children in his house. In addition to me and my sister, he hid two more Zawiercier girls. He risked his life doing this and yet he did it very willingly.

Perhaps, I could have escaped the fate of those sent away if the Judenrat had not found another contrivance: a Zawiercier Jewish policeman who was a criminal servant of the Nazis (he was felled by a German bullet on the night of the last deportation) pointed out my brother to a German policeman. He arrested him. Then the Nazis sent him to the Sosnowiec transit camp and he was sent to Auschwitz. In addition, the Hitler followers sealed us in the apartment. The entire family lived in terrible conditions.

I could no longer bear all this and could not watch the suffering of my parents from my hiding place.

Therefore, I appeared before the Judenrat.

Under the guard of the then Jewish policeman, I was sent to the transfer camp in Sosnowiec. My brother was freed, sick and weakened.

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Alas, I could not save him for long because from 1941 to 1945 I began to wander through the concentration camps – Schönberg, Graben, Bergen-Belsen – until Bergen-Belsen was captured by the British.

The further tragic fate of my family is unknown to me. Until the liquidation, I would still receive news from them through the mail, until the final liquidation of the ghetto.

The Righteous Man in Sodom
The Rabbi of Zawiercie – Reb Elimelech Rabinovitz

Yehuda Rozmiosh

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

When I fell into the infernal cauldron of Auschwitz, the name of the late Rabbi of Zawiercie was a ray of hope. Lonely, miserable, and like a stranger, I made my way through the camp's lanes. I searched for bright spots to hold on to so that my feet wouldn't stumble in the slippery areas before me, I searched, and I didn't find. I came among the exiles of Hungary who were the last communities of Jews in Europe for extermination. Europe has already been emptied of its Jews. Remnants of them survived in the death camps. But some of them had already stripped off all human form and assumed a form that repulsed any seer. Inside the camp walked the wild and infected man, whose visible pain is evidence of the horror, and whose appearance had the power to kill the soul forever. I looked at this monstrous creature that I encountered at every step, and I was shocked to the core. I felt that soon I too would be sucked into the abyss. And the devil would eliminate the spark of God that is within me. It was a miracle that at the very last moment, I had the chance to meet a respected man, a great and outstanding man – the Rabbi of Zawiercie, and he was the one who rescued me from a sling shot and ignited again my spark of faith in the people and soul of Israel.

Even on the first day of my arrival, I heard people whispering about him as a wonderful person. They said that in the five years of rage, he did not eat non-kosher food and never desecrated a single Shabbat in the camp. They added that he, the old man, keeps Judaism in all its details with the strength of a young man: prays every day, wrapped in a tallit and tefillin

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in the group of Minyan people according to the Jewish rules. I stood astounded and dumbfounded and I was confused. Can that be true, I asked myself, is it possible? Didn't the abyss swallow everything and it is still possible to find a righteous man in Sodom, who is firm and strong in his faith among all the wicked amid the whirlwind of fire and blood? I felt that something moved in my heart, that something rose to life in the depths of my soul. I felt that a spark of renewal entered my soul and breathed life into my entire shattered being.

When I came the next day to block number two to see the Rabbi of Zawiercie and get to know him - I did not find him. I asked and researched about him. Everyone said wonderful things about him. I returned several times and was unable to meet with him. I have been told that the miraculous man works at night. He comes home and prays with all his might, eats his bread, and lies down to sleep. Therefore, there is no way to talk to him unless it is early in the evening when he gets up and organizes the Minchah prayer. I returned empty-handed, without having seen him, but since then his legendary and glorious image flashed before my eyes, and I pictured him as the symbol of the eternity of the chosen people.

In the meantime, I met some friends from the best forces of Polish Jewry. We decided to start with public spiritual activities. In the same week that we decided about it, eight friends met at a small table in Block number two. We started singing and poured all our hearts into it. We started with sacred songs that expressed the yearnings of the soul and ended with passionate songs of Zion. We brought up from the depths pure longings and braided them as crowns for the heads of the tormented. Flashes of fire lit up in our eyes and flashes of light in our hearts. The anguish went away, the chains fell, and we found ourselves in a magic circle of eternal glory, singing sacred songs in devotion and with the spread of materialism. When we finished singing, we continued our conversations. Everyone uttered an idea, a ray of light, righteous sayings and conversation, words of Torah, words of wisdom.

When we got up to leave our party, we saw the miraculous man, the Rabbi of Zawiercie, standing above us. It seemed as if the deep sorrowful wrinkles on his face completely disappeared, his stooped stature straightened. He began to tell us comforting words.

He spoke excitedly, and his voice whispered as the voice of a man praying: Blessed are you children for I have seen you in this situation. Blessed are you that you lit the menorah in times of impurity that was unprecedented in modern times, until now. It's been years since I've been immersed in the valley of tears and I still haven't had the privilege of seeing here a single, distilled, pure glimmer of light from the great fire that burned on the altar of our ancestors in the exile. My eyes were filled with grief, my heart shrank from pain and my heart did not reveal its feelings. Astounded and amazed I stood among the piles of ruins, and I pondered how were all the great spiritual treasures in our souls destroyed. How did we lose all the dearest things that revived the soul of the nation for thousands of years? I sat alone in my sorrow, and no one knew my pain and the wounds of my faithful soul, until I saw you, my sons, at this party of yours, and my soul was revived. There is still room for hope. The fire of the altar is not yet completely extinguished. An ember whispers in the fertilizer pile, and when the wind blows, the ember will be the flame that will illuminate the darkness of our nights.

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Thus spoke the miraculous man, and his words, were spoken with holy emotion and childish innocence, shaking the hearts of all of us. We stood amazed in front of the beauty of holiness that was revealed to our eyes in the hell we were in. Overflowing with happiness, we left to our rooms to rest and gain energy for tomorrow's work.

Since then, I have met frequently with the Rabbi of Zawiercie. He always tried to remove the despair worm from my blood. Unfortunately, he was not very successful. My soul was too weak to resist the filth surge and I could not elevate myself like him to the secure stage and speak out in the face of angry fate. But I knew how to appreciate those who did not sink and fall. That is why I admired so much the personality of the Righteous man in Sodom – the Rabbi of Zawiercie.

I didn't know much about the life and activity of the Rabbi of Zawiercie before the war. He himself did not like to talk about them. He did not want to reveal the mystery of his life and did not want extraordinary attention to be paid to him. He, the elderly Jew among the thousands of young people, didn't want to stand out too much. He felt good when they did not talk about him. He was afraid of the publicity, from the curiosity searching his inner soul. He conducted himself in the camp carefully, secretly, away from everyone, without anyone seeing him and looking into his miraculous personality.

My friends told me that the Rabbi of Zawiercie was the brother-in-law of Reb Yeshaya Shapira. And apparently, the brother-in-law of the late Rebbe of Radomsko. Miraculously he remained alive until now. He has lived in the camp for already three years. His conduct in the camp was like his conduct at his home, he ate only kosher food, observed Shabbat, prayed and, studied Torah every day. The members of the underground group, headed by Bogan, Frankel

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and Peterkot, made sure that he would have a comfortable job that would also allow him to devote time to studying Torah and observing mitzvot. Twice he has already been selected in the “selections” for cremation, but the underground members always fought fiercely and managed to rescue him. I was told that he related to the grief in which he was in complete equanimity. Even when he was chosen for cremation, he continued to mumble chapters of the Psalms, and when he was rescued from his death, nothing changed in his facial expression. He treated everything with equanimity as if that was the way of the world. His soul wandered into worlds where there were no agony and sorrow.

The last time I saw him was about three months before the liberation in Gross-Rosen. He was lying on the floor pale and weak, wrapped in a tallit and tefillin, and prayed. His eyes were closed, and his lips were moving. He was surrounded by friends. I heard that his mental strength allowed him to continue as far as Buchenwald, where he collapsed and died.

From “She'arim” of the year 5706.

* * *

In “She'arim” from the 19th of Tammuz 5706 (18.7.1946), it is also told about the Rabbi of Zawiercie:

…My companion for suffering in the concentration camp, Rachel, took out her treasure (a head tefillin that she kept) gently from my hand, hidden it and said: “I forgot to tell you: in my library there is a small book of Mishnayot from the “Horev” publishing, perhaps you know which of the men I should hand it over to, surely there will be some who, despite the situation, still want to learn Torah.”

In the morning, I received a message from the Rabbi of Zawiercie, asking for the Mishnayot. He wanted to look at it... I handed the note to Rachel. Despite the danger, Rachel approached a guy, and tearfully asked him to take the Mishnayot and hand it to the Rabbi of Zawiercie. “Don't be afraid! You are a mitzvah messenger, and it will protect you... just tell the Rabbi of Zawiercie... to think about all the Israeli souls” - she said firmly.

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The Tragic Destruction of the Zawiercier Jews

by A. Sztulberg

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Whenever I have the experience of traveling past the city of Zawiercie, I feel a stab in my heart. Images surface of the shtetl [town] where I was born and raised. The tragic days of the Zawiercier Jews, who the Nazi hangmen so bestially annihilated, emerge. The majority of my family and friends also perished with them.

Zawiercie was an industrial center in its time. The workers at TAZ [Towarzystwo Akcyjne Zawiercie – Zawiercie Stock Society], the large textile factory, worked three shifts a day. It employed up to 8,000 workers. Later, during the years of crisis, there was an army of unemployed and often there was a confrontation with the police and as a result: dead and wounded.

Of the 6,000 Jewish residents, the majority were artisans, workers, retail merchants. There was also a considerable number of unemployed among the Jews. It is enough to remember that 30 percent of the Jewish population benefitted from the support of various communal aid organizations until the outbreak of the Second World War. Zawiercie had pugnacious young people in various organizations.

During the Hilterist occupation, the Jewish population grew. In April 1940, Jewish families arrived here from Bogumin [Bohumin in Czech], Cieszyn, Tarnowskie Góry, Bytom and a series of other cities who had been driven out by the Hilterist bandits. In November 1940, the first lapanke [roundup] took place in Zawiercie. Five hundred young people were sent to the concentration camps. This was the beginning of the Hitlerist plan to annihilate all of the Jews.

Half a year later, on the 21st of June 1941, the day of the Hitlerist attack on the Soviet Union, mass arrests took place in Zawiercie. Dozens of Jews were sent to the death camp, Oświęcim [Auschwitz].

The Hitlerist genocide did not leave the Jew, who lived in constant fear, any day of rest; there was no rest by day and not by night. Every few days more actions took place by the well-known sadist, the

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member of the Gestapo, Rudolf Schneider . In June 1942, a series of small communities around Zawiercie, such as Myszków, Siewierz, Mrzygłód, Koziegłowy, Kromołów, Łazy, Poręba and so on, were liquidated. The Jews living there came to Zawiercie.

However, the Jews could not remain for long because their annihilation began a few days later. The S.S. bandits drove thousands of Jews together to the new market where selections took place. More than 1,800 Jews were sent to Oświęcim. This was the first large deportation. A short time later, in July, the second deportation occurred. Again, hundreds of Jewish lives disappeared in the smoke of Oświęcim crematoria.

During the last months of 1942, a large shop Luftwaffe [aerial branch of the German military] was organized based on the examples of other cities in Zaglembie, such as Bedzin, Sosnowiec. This was supposed to be the only preventive means for not being sent to the extermination camps. All adults, even children aged 10, who had been recorded as older, were employed in the shop. Guilds of tailors, shoemakers, furriers, and knitwear workers worked for the needs of the military.

At the same time, the ghetto was being prepared for 5,000 Jews. The Jewish families were pressed even closer together in a smaller area. The living conditions were frightening, but all of the Jews were concentrated in one place. The chairman of the kehile [organized Jewish community] (gmina [in Polish]), Ignac Buchner, an intellectual, refused to provide a list with the names of the sick Jewish people. Therefore, the Gestapo bandits sent him, his wife and only child, his mother, sister and sister-in-law to Oświęcim, where they perished.

August 1943. The Jews of Zawiercie lived through difficult days. Frightening news reached them from Bedzin and Sosnowiec from which 20,000 Jews were taken to the death camps. The German leaders of the shop, however, assured us that this would not happen in our city; this had no connection to Zawiercie because this was a labor camp. The Jews did not believe the bandits. Tours of duty were established in the ghetto to inform all of the residents what was being prepared. The fascist murderers quickly prepared the liquidation of the remaining Jews in Zawiercie. The prelude took place on the 20th of August 1943 with the detention and arrest of a few Jews, but the true

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slaughter began on the 26th of August. The Hitlerist murderers shoved the frightened Jews into the prepared train wagons. A number of them were killed on the spot. These were the very esteemed people of the city, who were transported with the living in the direction of Auschwitz. This time, the number of victims reached 4,000 people.

The ghetto was liquidated. Jewish possessions, gathered during an entire life, lay abandoned in the courtyard of the house of prayer. A few hundred Jewish people remained. They were supposed to clean the ghetto and simultaneously finish the work in the shop. Again it occurred on the 18th of October – the fourth in the series. Nine hundred Jews shared the fate of their brothers and sisters.

Only seven men hid and awaited the defeat of German fascism, the fortunate ones: Rautmentsch, Brokman, Cukrowski, Landau, Sobelman, Cuker and Grinkraut, as well as two boys of 10 to 14 years of age. One had returned from Czechoslovakia and the other one had escaped from an Auschwitz transport. The surviving Jews – Landau, Sobelman, Cuker and Grinsztajn [Grinkraut above] had the satisfaction of unmasking and turning over to the police Rudolf Schneider, the Gestapo chief in Zawiercie whose trial took place in 1948. Schneider was hanged in Czenstochow in accordance with the sentence of the Polish court.

From the Folks-Shtime [People's Voice], Warsaw, 1958.


A trial of war criminals


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