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[Page 197]

Żelechów at War
Suffering and Holocaust


The First Three Months of the Hitler–Occupation
Beginning of German Robbery and Murder

by Godl Nachtajler (Buenos Aires)

Translated from Yiddish by David Lukowiecki

The first of September 1939, was a Friday morning. The Shabbat eve as always, the market is full with fish, the butcher–shops with meat, vegetables aren't missing; the women go home quickly to make the preparation for the Shabbat Chala; the grain–traders rotate in the market like every Friday, chewing a straw and waiting, that the peasants come with shorter crops to sell. Men run wood–bundles in hand, prepared kindling the whole week and think, that the coming Friday they would be bought again. Moshe Jojna's, the tailor, as usual, with the peak of the hat a little to the side, looks between the coming peasants their debtors to collect for him, for a jacket or for pants, which the peasant will let him keep.


Godl Nachtajler


Everything looks normal, as usual. A policeman writes down a punishment to Faige Hendl the baker for not being clean.

But suddenly the Jewish faces received a cloudy appearance. Women wring their hands, it was known, that the Polish Government–President informed, through the radio, that the German troops attacked the Polish borders at six in the morning and there is war! Everybody knew, that a difficult moment comes for the Jews. But no one imagined, that already at six in the afternoon German bomber–planes would fly over Żelechów. When they appeared, they were believed to be Polish. But the following day, Saturday morning, it was known, that the disaster has arrived. Carriages from Dęblin arrived with Jewish families, who barely took something to save from their possessions and goods, escaping from the bombardment. Then it was understood, that those were German planes, which destroyed villages and residents.

On the third and fourth day, still came refugees from the village Ryki and from different towns around Żelechów, that were bombed. All had the calculation: As Żelechów is 21 kilometers from a railway line and has no specific importance, will possibly here avoid the bombardment. And indeed so it was.

Żelechów became a rallying–point for all the Jews that ran from the eastern–areas. From far Poznan, from Lodz, from Warszawa, from Kraków, all passed through Żelechów. It's a fact, that many saved and surviving Jews from Poland, who never in their lives heard about the town Żelechów, know Żelechów today.

Should be mentioned, that the hard–working Żelechów kept its tradition. Every Jew, who passed through the town mentions today with great honor about that little place. Thousands of people passed through and all received places to sleep even in such houses where the room served at the same time as bedroom, dining–room, workshop and nursery, people found place where to bed the wanderer, which weren't either left out of the house hungry. Everybody looked at the chimney of Chantshe–Neche the baker, or at Motel's the baker, if a smoke goes out, and all immediately stood in line to receive the bread. There was no difference, if they were from Żelechów or not.

The second Tuesday since the outbreak of the war, at four in the morning, the town was fired with German machine–guns.

It was then noticed that the Germans were already in the city, when the Sturm–Division with the skulls in the helmets began driving all the Jews out of the houses and ordered to gather in the square in front of the firemen. People approached with fear. The Germans just informed the population, not to hide any guns and to be inside the houses after 8 in the night.

The public considered, that apparently the Germans do as such when they just arrive in a city. The cheerful mood became stronger later, when the German military marched through the city and on their faces was seen a successful, peaceful smile. Jews approached the soldiers, to chat with them, children received a piece of chocolate, people said that the newspapers exaggerated about the German evil.

At night, when the whole town was sunk in darkness, because of the prohibition to turn on light, the whole sky was suddenly lit with a clear bright fire. Through a crack in a door, which was carefully opened, was seen that the house of David Fal, the merchant, was wholly in flames. The Jewish youth, despite the ban to go out in the street, didn't lose their heads in the moment and ran to extinguish the fire. People joined like horses in the water–carriages of the firemen. They carried the pumps from the firemen house and didn't let the flames spread. Here some Germans came again unexpected to the place of the fire, they count up to ten boys and took them to the Warszawa highway, until the cemetery. They gave the order: “All lie down with the face to the ground”. The Jewish boys lay with heart beatings, they lay for an hour in the ground, not moving, waiting for the minute they shoot them. But soon they heard the laughs of the Germans: “Get up! Going home!”

The next morning, the Jews comfort again, that there's no other choice: The Germans set the fire on, because they saw a burning candle, with the boys they were only joking.

The first day of Rosh Hashana, the synagogue and Beit–HaMidrash, were as always, full with prayers and the prayer was quite peaceful, but the Yom–Tov supper was disturbed, when it was known, that the Germans together with the Polish hooligans broke into the grain–store in the market and robbed Jewish goods. In front of everybody's eyes they robbed, taking how much they could and the rest the Germans loaded in their trucks.

The second day of Rosh Hashana, when the Jews only appeared in the synagogue, the Germans cast out every one from the synagogue, leaving only one old Jew, in order to burn him later together with the synagogue. After that terrible act, all the Jews were stood in lines, also from all the Jewish houses the men were taken and stood in the lines. All were taken to the Luków highway. There in a forest, stood machine–guns, all had to kneel, who would move, would be shot, that was the order. A truck came, it points out that they prepared for something terrible. But also this time they suffered fear. The Command ordered to bring the Jews. And there came a warning: If something happens to a German soldier, they will murder the whole city. Going home they already saw coal smoke, the synagogue stood in flames. Soon a shot was heard, the Nazis caught a by passer, Chaim, Moshe Pesach's son (the humpback), and having a pit ready by the synagogue, they threw him in and shot him by the burning synagogue.

On Yom–Kippur, they made minyanim in different houses and prayed quietly, wept quietly in their hearts for the Master of the Universe, for the great misfortune that has happened.


The First Expulsion from Zelechow and the Hope for the Red Army

The horror days didn't last long, soon after Yom Kippur, a thrill ran through the Jewish bones, when they saw a horde of Germans arriving from the Command and on the bridge by the longer street, they divided themselves in two directions. They drove Jewish men out of the houses, stood them again in a line, the act lasted a few hours until all were stood. Finally they took them all to a place at the “courtyard”, and it was reported, that all were going to be taken away in much farther, more than two hundred kilometers, and who can't walk and stand in the way, will be immediately shot.

The Nazi bandits, driving in motorcycles, lead the Jews through Stock, Siedlce, to Ostrow–Mazowiecki. They kept their word: Whoever didn't have any strength to walk, they shot. And so on the way were killed Chaim–Meir Paker's, Aharele Sasne's (the teacher), a Jew from Maciejów called Korngold and others, which names I don't remember. The same night all the Germans in Żelechów disappeared. No one in the beginning understood, what was the reason to leave the city so suddenly.

The first two days, after the Germans left the city, the Jews breathed freely. But the calmness didn't last for long.

The Polish hooligans took the opportunity, that there wasn't any power available, and a total anarchy erupted. They broke into Monish Kiszmesz and robbed fleece, with lack of boots at Velvel Szprynger. The second day of Sukkot several Polish militants arrived in the city, who hid in the forests, and by the guidance of the local hooligans, they took the Rabbi at 11 in the morning, in the market to the house of Yosef Mędrzycki, ordered him to stand facing the wall and gave an ultimatum: To provide 500 cigarettes and an amount of money, if not they would shoot the Rabbi. It's understandable, that it was soon carried out and the Rabbi was set free.

Due to the state of war, having no communication and no news from anywhere, people circulated with a question mark on their lips: “Why did the Germans leave the city?”

After a few days, returned the Jews from Ostrow–Mazowiecki, which the Germans had taken. From them became aware, that the Soviet Union has already taken west Ukraine and west Belarus and wants to reach the Wisla. On account of the same reason they were freed from Ostrow by the Germans, because the Soviets must arrive. It was clear, that people needed to be prepared to receive the Red Army.

The news spread fast over the whole city. The atmosphere soon changed. The Anti–Semites soon started to flatter the Jews, frightened for their good deeds, which they have done. On the last day of Sukkot the Red Army was already in Łuków.

The same week, Sunday afternoon, came Shamai Maruwke from Łuków with the news that the next day, Monday, at two o'clock in the afternoon, the Red Army will arrive in Żelechów. At Getzel Chimesz's house got together in a meeting the following people: Yankel Gurfinkel, Getzel Chimesz, Shamai Maruwke, Zishe Ankerman. From Poles, Różański, Stefan Kocielnik, Stachala, the writer of these lines and a representative of the youth. A committee of receiving the Red Army was formed and equally divided for different functions.

The same evening the former Major Pudlo called up a meeting in the theater hall with the purpose of rehabilitation. In his speech he pointed out the goods he had done for the city. First of all, he wanted to prove he was not an Anti–Semite. Sender Wajsleder asked for the word, and in few words he said all the good deeds of the Major. His Fascist methods to deal, specially, with the Jewish population. Pudlo didn't fear any jest. He, who not long ago didn't admit any Jew, now, in the great theater hall, in front of all the assembled, started crying like a little child, asking Sender to forgive him for the previous sins.


Sender Wajsleder


In great expectation, no one wanted to go to sleep. Everyone had one thought in the night: It will be Monday two o'clock. But unfortunately, Getzel, Sender and also all the Jews from Żelechów didn't live up to take revenge for their misfortunes and pain.

Monday, at two o'clock, we learned that the Red Army was retreating to the Bug. Soon, Tuesday afternoon, came a German officer and announced that on Wednesday morning the German soldiers will return.

The same day, at night, a division of Polish militants, who until then hid in the forest, arrived with machine–guns. They stopped at Kożiej Street, next to Berish Fajnzylber, as if prepared to fight. The whole city understood, what this meant: When the Germans arrive, the whole city will go down with smoke. Interfered the priest, the writer of the magistrate and convinced them to retreat from the city. Wednesday morning the Germans were back in town.


Days of Horror and Pain

It began with terrible days. It looked like according to a carefully prepared plan the Germans make efforts to ruin Jews their life. Just as dog–bats catch dogs, so men are caught for work, for which we got different afflictions such as: beatings, forcing to clean the dirtiness from the bathrooms with bare hands. They commanded us to crawl under their cars and wash them and they took by themselves a bucket of water and pour it underneath, in order to wet those who are doing the job. They took the tall Sone, ordered him to clean the city's church of different garbage, that their horses caused. Thereby they cut half of his beard and took a photograph.

A Jewish delegation was able to get consent at the Command so no Jews would be caught for labor. It was determined even a precise location, where each day, a certain number of Jews were designated by the list. They must be by the baker's (the Curve Head) house at 7 in the morning and from there the Germans must take them to labor. These labor–mediation was under the leadership of Srolke Fajnzylber.

It ran punctually for a day or two, but later the German bandits felt better to catch in the street the people for the labor so people had to sneak through the street, to not be noticed.

Shortly from the beginning the Germans noticed that they had fascinating elements between the Polish population, good helpers to torment Jews. For their spectacles with the Jews, the Germans picked out market days and the hooligans had pleasure of their job.

In catching Jews for the labor, the first times, Polish hooligans helped, who had learned the word “Jude”, because the Germans couldn't make a difference between the Jews and Non–Jews, not all had beards. To cut Jewish beards they also picked up Sundays, when there is a fair. The city was full with peasants and every Jew walking by with a beard, was caught by the Germans, they cut half a beard from one side, so it would provoke more laugh. There was a great emotion, joy and fun by the dark crowd, who observed the horror scenes.

One time, a Sunday, when the market was full with Poles, who walked to the prayer, the Germans went into the Rebbe's house and not finding the Rebbe, because he hid the whole time, they took his brother, who was a Rebbe in the town Ryki, with the Rebbe's children and took them to stand in a line by themselves in the market. There, under the hearings of the laughs from the crowd, they ordered the Rebbe and the children to dance and sing. Thereby they received each time a push from a German boot, a blow in the head, thereby they cut the Rebbe's beard.

Jews felt then, that they didn't only cut the Rebbe's beard, but all the Jewish hearts. After that they took them to the synagogue courtyard and ordered them to light a fire from straw and manure, that was located there, and with their own hands they had to throw in their yarmulkes in the fire to burn, later they were let free.

A Friday, in the month of October, at nine in the morning, there was a chasing in the whole city. Every one ran to hide in a basement, in an attic, where they could, they were catching people already again. Two German trucks arrived, they caught a lot of Jews and took them inside the market. There they loaded them into the trucks and they went to look for more Jews. When the two trucks were already full packed, the Germans announced that they demand 30 thousand zlotys to release the Jews. Chaim Mitelman's wife appeared and turned to a German, he went with her, she took him to the Jewish rich men in the city, to Yosef–Broche's, Chaim Zadyber, Berish Fajnzylber and the Szarfharcs, each gave a certain amount. It was hard to collect the big amount, it took a few hours until they got the money and Jews waited for their destiny. They knew that their lives now were clung to money, which now they collected. But their lives were redeemed and they were released.

Żelechów was overflowed with bad news from the surrounding cities. They found out, that in Łaskarzew, the Germans took the last 39 Jews who were there, took them to the forest, ordered each one of them to dig a pit; 38 they shot and only one was left alive, he had to cover the dead.

But they found again a “why”. There the horrible murder was carried out, because when the Germans took the city, the Poles entrenched themselves in the church yard and made a strong defense, during which many Germans were shot. But later, when the Germans were already a little time in the town, the Anti–Semites made a confusion with the Jews that they were the one who shot from the church and therefore the Germans had to take revenge now.

In the month of November, a Tuesday, a fair–day, a fair extremely big, which have never happened in Żelechów. The market was full with peasants' wagons. It was difficult to go through the market and the surrounding streets. On market–days people came from very far, because all the surrounding towns were already destroyed and in each town there were no more market days, buyers and sellers came to Żelechów. And suddenly, at two in the afternoon, when the whole peasant trade was in fervor, a shot was heard and soon another one.

In one moment, there was already a chase, all the wagons were already spread in the minute, peasants scourged the horses so they should run faster, the horses set up their feet, with opened muzzles and ran away from the city. Soon it was heard from the peasants' mouths: “Jews killed a German soldier”. The streets were emptied from peasants' wagons. It was clear, that there was no Jew appeared on the street. German patrols, infantry, motorcyclists and cars; the patrols closed the streets, marched back and forth waiting for further orders.

Each Jewish family sat with death–fear at home, still without moving. Merely with the eyes, with a glimpse they understood, that they need to be ready for death. It was hard to imagine what death they will give us.

Deaths they had a lot. Just as in Untane Tokef, they will burn us with the houses, or take us for shooting, or even possible like they did in Kałuszyn: Attack every house and stab us with bayonets? Here already men, women with children in their arms and bigger children came out from the houses to the wall of Zanvl Kamaszenmacher. There they stood and waited until they bring others.

But it appeared that the end wasn't coming yet. Żelechów Jews still needed to suffer a while under the Nazi authority and die in the crematoriums. And also this time it ended in fear. The priest and another well–known Pole explained the German Commander in the city, that a simple bandit shot the German, not a Jew, who wasn't arrested by the Germans. The bandit had earlier murdered a village family and Jews returned to their homes, praying HaGomel and waited for fresh troubles.

The days were painful, no less terrible were the nights.

Jewish daughters hid in the day, but at night there wasn't any more where to hide, because at night the German murderers went inside the houses looking for girls. Each Jewish mother who had a daughter wasn't able to sleep at night. And when soldiers walked in the late night hours with the heavy boots and beat the heels, then each one nailed as the hearts of the Jewish mothers.

Just as the entire Jewry under the Nazi rule, also the Żelechów Jews soon from the beginning started to lead a fight for life, it wanted to live, survive and overcome the end of the Nazi rule. Each one believed something, that the Germans would not govern for long and therefore torment, struggle and pain arrived like a natural, but temporal thing. They convinced themselves, as they could, and in order to be able to persist and also the family, they traded. The biggest success was to trade with “cigarettes”.

The lame Mechl, who permanently sold cigarettes, began with his cozy cigarettes to represent the biggest cigarette factory in Poland. He felt at that time like a great businessman. He already didn't need to stand in the street like before and ask people to buy, he sold at home, wholesale. Even little boys had to become the feeders of the family and bought “cigarettes” at Mechl's to sell them.

Most of the Jewish businesses, established in the earlier years, were closed. However almost in every other house a vault was opened, where people could buy anything. With life danger people went to Warszawa. They traveled a day and a night on wagon carts, which were covered with sheets. Each one brought home a few sackcloth, leather, threads and other things for sale. And so they lived and hoped.

Every day brought new misfortunes and also new hope. Indeed already two months had passed since the Red Army had retreated to the Bug River. But each Jew still hoped, for the return of the Red Power. Every time a mysterious rumor was spread, that someone secretly heard through the radio (to listen to the radio was forbidden and people had to hand over all the radio–sets), that the Russians negotiated with the Germans, the Red Army will occupy until the Wisla. Who heard it and who said it, nobody knew. Sometimes they used to say, that Moshe Majchel (the Communist activist), had told and heard through the radio, or that a Pole had told Lipish Goldsztejn, but never knew precisely and weren't able to confirm the accuracy of the news.

Meanwhile the rumors brought hope, but also brought a lot of misfortune. A lot of people, or at least the youth wanted to save themselves advancing to the Soviet Union. But each one thought, why to make the hard journey from sneak through the border (because once the journey became harder), so the Soviet government would surely come to us, as such thought the majority with me also included.

The 29th of November 1939, I was captured for the task of unloading charcoal from a car, for the German soldiers that were inside the landowner's palace. After the task the Nazi driver inside the car, chased us from the palace to the market. There he let us free. Then I decided to wait no more. I gave up all hopes and escaped quickly from the beasts.

We arranged a group of 8 people and on the first of December said farewell to our fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers. Then for the last time we saw our families in our birth–town Żelechów.

[Page 202]

The German “Robbery”

by Perl Wajnberg (Costa Rica)

Translated from Yiddish by David Lukowiecki




When the war broke out, I was in Żelechów together with my husband. Until the war we had a grocery store and lived not bad. The Germans arrived in our city the 11th of September 1939. On the 12th of September the “robbery” began. The closed stores were opened by the Germans, also my shop was, as understood, not an exception. The Germans came with cars, took out as much as they could and the rest ordered the Poles to take.

There came Poles, men, women and even children and emptied the Jewish shops. Among the civilians who got saved, were found: Janek Osiński with his two sons, Rybitwina, Janek Kuchalski, Andzia, Majek, Bolek Pieroński. Jews stood and watched how they robbed their shops. My sisters stood by my store. The Germans who took out the products told the sisters: “We will pay you for everything”. The sisters answered them: “If you'll pay, we'll take it”.

“Nu, yes, we'll pay you with bullets”, the robbers finished the conversation and really just started shooting. Everyone ran.

At night, when we approached our store, it was already empty. It looked as usual after a pogrom. What the robbers didn't want to take, they scattered over the floor. Neighbors, who saw who robbed, advised us to go to the Poles to take back the stolen goods. So did I. Merely a few gave back and it was only trifles. Teresa Kieliszkowa explained, that she had barely taken, just to give back and indeed she returned it. Should be mentioned that there were a few Poles, which behaved humanly. They were: the apothecary Zwoliński, Dr. Kasperowicz, the butcher Dziubak, his brother–in–law, the vice–major Domański, during the robbery they took goods from the Jewish stores and later gave them back to the owners.

[Page 236]

My Memories of the Hitler Time
An Orphanage in Zelechow During the German Occupation

by Sura Wajnberg (Costa Rica)

Translated from Yiddish by David Lukowiecki




On the terrible Hitler war years, the children were the first victims. A lot of children lost their parents and remained alone in hunger and need. From the beginning of the war there were a lot of orphans from other towns that after losing their parents, stayed in Żelechów. An orphanage was created for these children.

In the orphanage there were about 40 children. There was a group of women with them. The women gathered pillows, blankets, plates and pots in the city, other needed items were bought and the children were organized.

The women, the initiators of the orphanage, cooked, distributed the food and cared for their clothes, shoes, soap, tooth–paste and other needs and were like mothers for the miserable orphans. Each woman took a pair of children under her protection and each one wanted her child to dress nicer and eat better.

The children were thought to sew, knit and sing. The Germans had forbidden other teachings for the Jewish children. There were very intelligent children which wrote journals, descriptions and even songs that they recited on Shabbat and on performances, which they used to place in: Channuka, Purim and other opportunities.

I knew the orphanage and the children from there very well. My mother was one of the women that occupied with the orphans. She had her duty every Shabbat.

On Saturday afternoons my mother used to bring home a 13 year old girl which my mother supervised and on the evening we took her back. We permanently maintained a little role with these children.

On Passover, nice prayer books were organized, as well as other traditional holidays were celebrated. The orphanage was led by the wife of the Judenrat's president, Shalom Finkelsztejn's wife, Ester Finkelsztejn. She was the mother of all the children, which loved her and appreciated her very much and she earned it properly.

On a certain horrible day, a car with Gestapos came, which was later known as “the black car”. The Gestapos were called the “blacks” because they outstand in killing and robbing. When they came to Żelechów, they made the city dark and black…They used to drive into a house and take out some people, ordered them to run and shot them afterwards or took the victims in the car, drove them behind the city and shot them there.

Also in a summer day in Tamuz of 1942, the President Shalom Finkelsztejn, his wife Ester Finkelsztejn, the mother of the orphanage, and also their 3 year old daughter, which the maid held on her hands, were murdered. The murderers demanded her to put the child down in order to shoot her, but she didn't want to, so they also shot her with the child on her hands.

All the orphans mourned the death of Mrs. Finkelsztejn, which besides to her 3 children, was a warm mother to all the children of the orphanage. With deep sorrow, pain and gratitude for her, they composed a song, to which they adapted a melody and sang the song with tears in the eyes.

The lines of the song began with these words:

Azoy vi der oyto iz ongekumen, As the car arrived,
Hot men undzere tayere mame tzugenumen. Our dear mother was taken.
Veint, veint, yetoimelech veint, Cry, cry, orphans cry,
Veint, veint, kinderlech veint! Cry, cry, children cry!


It was believed that those who survived the arrival “black car”, will still live. But unfortunately, it wasn't like that. In Hoshana Rabba, when all the Jews were casted out, also the Jewish innocent orphans lost their lives. They were transported will all the saints of Żelechów to Treblinka.


Saved a Man from Death

Although the cruel and terrible war abstained a lot of people and took their image of God, even when surrounded by the terrible Germans, there were however many Żelechów Jews, that were ready to do anything in order to save a person's life. I will then tell the following fact:

In Żelechów there was a Jew called Yekl “Kulebube”, that's how they called him. He was the son–in–law of Moshe Farber, a simple Jewish householder. He drove a wagon with fruits in the street. When he went out to the market with the wagon and shout: “The cheaper comes”, his voice was heard in all the streets. Therefore they called him the “cheaper”.

During the war, when the hunger was already a strong feeling in Warszawa, a stronger smuggling trade began. From Żelechów products were also taken for sale. For Jews it was forbidden to go from one city to the other one, but a lot traveled as Christians, often they succeeded. Yankl “Kulebube” was also among the Christian travelers. He went once, but on the second time, Anti–Semites informed that he was a Jew, he was captured and received death–penalty. The judgement was left to be carried on in a few days.

When the sad news arrived in Żelechów, they grieved everyone. The Rebbe, Mr. Moshe Fast, Gedalia Yosef Frimer and Noach Szalit, the nicest householders in the city, walked around the houses in Żelechów and in time of a few hours, collected 50,000 zlotys, an enormous amount in that time. The Germans said that they would take the sum for the “Jewish–head” and Yankl “Kulebube” was rescued from death, which he didn't avoid later.


My Last Night in Zelechow

When the liquidation of the Żelechów ghetto occurred, I was a child, but now I see through my eyes the horror images that took place on that night of Hoshana Rabba and on the early morning, when the 7 thousand Żelechów Jews were taken out for slaughter.

The whole night from Tuesday to Wednesday, was heard the sound of the horses and wagons that the Germans brought from surrounding villages in order to take out the Jews. Żelechów didn't sleep that night. At five o'clock in the morning the German murderers voice was heard calling: “To the cemetery! To the cemetery!” Many followed the order, some were cast out of their houses with beatings and gunshots, chasing them until the cemetery. The panic was so big that parents escaped from the houses and left the children behind in the cribs.

On the cemetery, when all the victims were already gathered, an “Oberscharfuhrer” announced us that crying was not permitted. “You will be moved to Sobolew. It's forbidden to have more than 20 zlotys.” The baker was ordered to bake bread a whole night and on the place bread was distributed with marmalade.

Soon a partition was carried out: men, women, young and old in separate groups. Children were thrown on the wagons and also the old people was put in the wagons because they couldn't go by foot…Sick people were shot. The young ones were put four in a row and like this began to march on the death journey. Whoever went out of the row or remained behind was immediately shot. The way led to Sobolew to the train and from there to Treblinka.

After two hard and tormented years in the forests, bunkers, under the ground, we were finally liberated. We returned to our birth city but our homes weren't. Great part of the houses were taken down and potato fields were placed instead. After circulating a few hours, a Polish woman, Kaliszek, took us inside her house and explained thereby that any Jew that comes may come to her. She was then from the few Polish women in Żelechów, that had compassion for our misfortune.

We couldn't remain long in town. We were chased by the death risk from the underground bands which came to eliminate the remaining 50 Jews, the surviving remnant that tried to gather in their birth town.

[Page 250]

The Holy Death of the
Rebbes of Zelechow and Ryki

by Moshe Szyfman (Bogota)

Translated from Yiddish by David Lukowiecki




On June 1942, when the Germans prepared their armed attack on the Soviet–Union, the writer of these lines laid hiding together with the Żelechów Rebbe, Mr. Abraham Shalom Goldberg, in Sinai Szojchet's attic. The Rebbe's younger daughter came to bring food for her father, of blessed memory, because it was then impossible for men to show up in the street.

She brought a new message from Israel Velvel Meszameysz (Lederman) that we are already “helped”, the city is full of military and a lot of Jews are being caught for labor, ordering them to abandon a lot of luggage. Jews accepted this as a good sign that the Germans were already withdrawing from the front. After she gave a greater sign that last night, an officer slept at Hershl Milwe's with 12 soldiers, which disappeared in the middle of the night. It was understood that the Germans are already escaping.

It is worth to give the fact that there was so much military then in the city that they had to require a lot of private houses to sleep, even Jewish. All this gave a greater confidence that the salvation is close.

The Rebbe then told to the writer of these lines the sad opinion that people would shout to us in the grave “The Russians are here”.

The 22nd of June, when the Germans began their aggression against the Soviet Union, spontaneously among the Jews were spread the news, which was received with great joy that the Russians crossed the Bug already into the west, which was then the frontier between Germany and the Soviet Union. The news even reached the German gendarmerie, which lead to the arrest of several Jews. Money had to be given in order to release them. As usual, the Jewish solidarity feeling was expressed and a committee was immediately formed with Noach Szalit, Yechiel Ryfman, Nachum Wajnsztok, and others, which secretly collected the required amount for the great mitzvah of Redemption of Captives. Even the poorest ones, according to their estimate, contributed for it in order to be part of the great mitzvah.

On the summer of 1942, in the middle of the day, the Rebbe's little daughter Itele came to my house. For men and adult women it was then impossible to show up in the street. The Rebbe's little daughter told me that her father the Rebbe needs to talk to me. Although it was a short walk from the house of Velvel Wisznia in the Zadyber Street until the Rebbe's, it was life–dangerous. But I estimated the urgency of the importance of that matter and sacrificed myself going to the fence of Pinie Smoliarz and to the communal square and like this I got to the Rebbe's yard.

Right away I was led into the Rebbe's hideout where his brother Mr. Elimelech, the Ryki Rebbe was also in. Again we began to analyze the situation and outlook the future of the Jewry. The purpose of calling me was to show me letters the Rebbe received secretly from Kosowa (the closest place to Treblinka), where all our relatives were killed. In the letters was described in an encrypted language, the hell sufferings done to the Warszawa Jews which were then in that murdering place. The Rebbe asked me that this must be a strong secret even for my family, telling me that I was the first who saw these letters. We had a conversation about the later future, what was needed to be done, if there's a purpose on hiding, living with false illusions, or we need to face the reality and go straight with all the Jews to Treblinka? There was a discussion between us. We talked very quietly with tears in the eyes, fearing from listeners.

I and the Zelechow Rebbe of blessed memory, were with the opinion that despite all the sufferings we must see all the possibilities to survive, maybe our blessed God will have mercy on us, checking different old Jewish sources that even in the worst cases, people must not desperate and look for all the possibilities to survive for even an hour. The Ryki Rebbe Mr. Elimelech of blessed memory, was in the opinion that we had to share the fate of the whole Jewry and die with all of them. The Rebbe didn't believe that there are such opportunities for a Jew to survive because the whole world is against us, the Poles are willing to help murder us, which was unfortunately true. As it's already known, 40 percent of the Jews that managed to hide themselves from the Germans, my whole family among them, were killed in the neighboring villages by the hands of the Polish murderers.

The Ryki Rebbe Mr. Elimelech of blessed memory, also said that he won't try to save himself or anyone from his family because there wasn't any hope at all of surviving.

The Żelechów Rebbe Mr. Shalom of blessed memory, and I, began thinking about technical possibilities to save ourselves. The only way then was to try to go in the camp that was in Wilga by the Wisla, close to Osieck, where the tormented Żelechów Jews made wool by the river Wilga, which is part of the Wisla. The camp was led by Poles under the supervision of the German government. These Poles were excellent and didn't insinuate to remain without the matter of tormenting Jews like their superiors the Germans.

All the workers of the camp were provided by the Żelechów Judenrat.

The Rebbe told me then that he had the idea to send his two boys Shlomole and Yehoshuale, of blessed memory, inside the camp, calculating that the people will help them to survive, especially his devotee and follower Itshe Godl the butcher, who was then a member of the Judenrat and a great supporter of the Żelechów Rebbe. He, the Rebbe, and his family would hide again so maybe our blessed God will help and they will manage to overcome such hard times for the Jewry.

We both said goodbye with warm tears in the eyes, wishing we may see each other again. While leaving he told begged me and emphasized once again that the letters and everything talked must remain a strong secret. Soon after that, the attacks against the Jews intensified from the German side and their helpers the Poles, so I didn't have any more opportunities to meet with the Rebbe until the last days of the High Holidays of that same year, when we already knew of the experience of other Jewish towns what it meant “relocation”, meaning deportation to the death camps. Then I had also the idea to go into the camp in Wilga. But the sending to the camp was considered by the Judenrat as a privilege for those who had paid the Judenrat and the Police Commander, the sadly famous Melech Szarfharc, while before people needed to pay for not going.

I went to the truck once on a Monday morning. It stood by the Judenrat local and was guarded by the Jewish Police and gendarmerie. They watched that the workers wouldn't escape. There I met the Rebbe's two boys which were taken without money thanks to the intervention of the above mentioned Itshe Godl, but unfortunately they weren't also destined to go because after a little journey, close to the Polish Gmina, we were encountered by the German gendarmes with the known Jewish murderer Trunker on lead. They ordered to stop the truck, to take everybody's bundles and ordered us to run back to Żelechów. Accompanied by hits from their butts, we all ran back to the city, among us also the Rebbe's two boys. On return we began to beg the Commander Melech Szarfharc so he would send us again and he loaded us in a second transport, which as understood, wasn't free. The second time we arrived peacefully in the Wilga camp.

After being a while in the time in the camp, the Rebbe's children came inside as also the above mentioned Itshe Godl and his family, which also came to save themselves because the Judenrat already had the news that soon will occur the deportation of all the Żelechów Jews. Itshe Godl helped the Rebbe's children with money, food and got them lighter jobs. There we received news about the extermination of the Żelechów Jews. The ones who came later, former members of the Jewish Police, informed that the Ryki Rebbe Mr. Elimelech of blessed memory, keeping his opinion when the Germans ordered to take out all the Jews into the synagogue yard, refused to carry the order and was immediately shot on the Rebbe's yard, wearing his tallit and tfilin. His example was followed by: Sinai Szojchet, Yekl Unger and Nachum Wajnsztok, of blessed memories, which also died in the Rebbe's yard.

The Żelechów Rabbi, keeping his opinion, hid for 5 days in a hideout. He was discovered by the Polish Police and firemen and was taken out of his hideout. The Germans accomplished his last request, took him out to the cemetery and shot him there.

As we were informed, was also with him my long friend Yekel Chaim Yosef's (Zylbersztejn) with his wife.

In the Wilga camp soon after Sukkot we walked barefooted and naked in the great snows and frosts and were strongly tormented by the Polish collaborators. Despite the terror we secretly formed a minyan where each one said kadish for their holy ones. The minyan was in the room that Yechiel Popowski with his family had taken. Also there the Rebbe's two boys said kadish for their parents, may the memory of the righteous be a blessing.

It's important to mention that despite all the torments, the whole time was tried not to eat non–kosher and were sufficient with a piece of bread. It was tried by the leader of the camp, a Polish engineer, which name I don't remember, to separate a special kosher cauldron for the religious workers. On the head of the intervening group were: The abovementioned Itshe Godl, Yechiel Popowski, Yechiel Ryfman and separate as living, Moshe Boruchowicz. Later we received the news that the camp was going to be abandoned. We soon figured out what it meant and began to think how to save ourselves. The only way out was to escape the camp, which wasn't of the easiest things knowing that almost the whole Polish population is against us. Itshe Godl trusted me that he also expects to escape, expressing thereby his despair of not being able to take with him the Rebbe's children. But he promised that when he finds a safe place in such village, he will send for them. Unfortunately his desire wasn't accomplished because when he left to look for a hideout, was already too late to send for the Rebbe's children. The camp was already dissolved and at the same time all the Jewish workers were sent to Sobolew, where a new Jewish ghetto was created. The Germans assured that there the Jews would have the possibility to survive, permitting as well all the Jews from other cities to come inside such ghetto. Later all the Jews from there, together with the Zelechow Jews were deported in wagons to the death camp in Treblinka.

The writer of these lines with his whole family, Moshe Boruchowicz with his children, Chaim Meir Wajnberg and family and all the Boruchowicz's children, Yechiel Popowski and his family, Noach and Hershl Winograd, managed to hide in two hideouts which were prepared for us by one of their few fine Poles Mr. Edward Turek, who really risked his life to save Jews and persuaded his brother–in–law Mr. Sokol to make a hideout for Jews in his residence, for which he later paid with his life because the gendarmerie discovered the Popowski family there. They were shot together with their saver Sokol.

Honor their memory.

While hiding we received the news that Itshe Godl with his family, which also had a hideout in the same area, were delivered by Poles to the Ciechomin Police Office. They demanded money from them to forgive their lives and when they had taken the required amount, they were reported to the gendarmerie, which murdered the Jews after terrible tortures. Together with them was also David Lichtensztejn (the son–in–law of Eliezer the baker) with his family.

[Page 259]

The Ghetto Firemen and Their End

by Tzivia Rozental–Worcelman (Barranquilla)

Translated from Yiddish by David Lukowiecki




In the Żelechów Ghetto on orders from the Germans was established a Jewish Firemen–Organization. The Jewish firemen together with the Poles formed a team. Under the command of the Polish Fireman Wlodarczyk every Saturday morning they had exercises. From time to time used to come from Garwolin a director and made a general exercise. In the firemen station were 2 people on duty, a Jew and a Pole. The Jewish firemen were privileged in the ghetto, they weren't taken to any work.

During the liquidation of the ghetto, when the Jews were herd to Sobolew and from there deported to Treblinka, the Jewish firemen received a special task: to take out from the houses, older, weak people, children and sick and take them on special prepared wagons towards Sobolew. After the liquidation of the ghetto remained in Żelechów the 50 firemen. Each one by their profession delivered work for the Germans.

A short time after the liquidation, 25 people from the firemen were sent into the camp Wilga. The rest kept working in Żelechów until the 21st of March 1943. That day came the German Commander, gathered all the firemen, ordered them to pack their things, take a bath and be prepared to travel to Warszawa, there they would work in a workshop.

The firemen followed the order of the Commander. A truck was driven to the magistrate, all loaded and traveled on the road to Warszawa. After the bridge, the car turned into the Kęblow road and from there to the Jewish cemetery.

The known Jewish firemen found out that they drive them to death, so they started to escape. The Germans shot. Some fell dead in the spot. The rest were led to the cemetery and shot there.

A few survived.


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