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[Page 309]

The Destruction

 

[Pages 129-132 Hebrew] [Pages 311-315 Yiddish]

In the Zychlin ghetto

Translated by Leon Zamosc

This chapter is based on the testimonies of Eli and Anna Goldfarb, Zandberg, Sasha Kowent and Zechariah Rozenkopf

In September 1939, the Germans occupied Zychlin almost without a fight. Only a small group of Polish soldiers offered some resistance. The next day, senior managers from the Dobrzelin sugar factory appeared in the town dressed in SS uniforms. They were Volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans). Taking advantage of the fact that he was married to the daughter of Walter (a Pole of German descent who owned a pub on Pasieka street), the head of the Polish Socialist Party in the town, Markowka, suddenly became a Volksdeutsche. It should be noted, though, that the Volksdeutsche of Zychlin did not participate in the persecution of the Jewish population. In many cases, they helped the families of the Jewish tailors and shoemakers who had worked for them. The Volksdeutsche who harassed the Jews were not local. The Germans brought them to Zychlin from other places.

During the first days of the occupation, the Jews hid in their homes, afraid to take to the streets. The Polish soldiers and some civilians who had been wounded were taken to the church, where they received treatment from Polish and Jewish young women.

A few days later, the Germans pounded drums in the streets and issued a proclamation ordering all the Jews to gather in the market square. While they were there, the soldiers searched their homes, ostensibly looking for weapons, but in fact taking everything they wanted. Many Jews were seized for compulsory work, such as sweeping the streets and cleaning the living quarters and offices of the Germans.

In November, the Jews were ordered to wear a yellow ribbon on their sleeves and paint the word “Jude” on the doors of their homes. Shortly afterwards, the yellow ribbon was replaced by a yellow Star of David that the Jews had to wear on their chests. A curfew was also set from 6 pm to 6 am. Jews were not allowed to be seen on the street during those hours.

The Germans established a Jewish council - the Judenrat. The chairman was Alter Rozenberg, who had been chairman of the community committee. The other members were Yosef Chelmski, Yitzhak Kelmer, Yehoshua Zyger, Yitzhak Zeifert, Noyech Kelmer, Mordechai Zyger and Dr. Winogron. A Jewish police force was also established, headed by Yosef Oberman. The policemen received a salary and many of them wore police hats. They served as policemen in the ghetto and provided food to the residents. Initially, the ghetto was established on Narutowicz (Budzyner) street, from Shalom Zyger's house to Buszkower street. The Jews whose homes faced Narutowicz street were ordered to block their windows and doors with planks, so that it would not be possible for them to look out onto the street. This was the large ghetto, in which about 1,800 people were concentrated.

A second ghetto was established near Pabianów. There were 300 people in that ghetto, where the housing situation was horrendous. Three families, up to 20 people, had to share a two-room apartment. Everyone had brought with them their miserable possessions, which caused continuous strife. The members of the Judenrat and the policemen had to come and calm things down every day. The Judenrat's office was located in Shalom Zyger's house.

The German commander in Zychlin was less brutal than the commanders in some neighboring towns, which prompted Jewish families from Sanniki, Kutno and Wloclawek to secretly move into Zychlin ghetto as refugees.

To prevent the savage hunting of Jews for compulsory work, a labor office was established, headed by Yehoshua Zyger. He sent people to work in orderly shifts. Those who could not work would pay others to replace them. The economic situation of the craftsmen was still tolerable. The farmers in the area still came to place orders for clothes, shoes, etc. They paid in kind with food and other agricultural products. The barter trade was conducted in the yard of Shalom Zyger's house. The Germans did not obstruct it, but they posted a German guard in front of the house to make sure that the Jews did not go out onto Narutowicz street.

 

Nazis abusing Zychlin Jews, naked in the snow

 

There were Jews who sneaked out of the ghetto at night, went to the villages, brought foodstuffs and sold them at exorbitant prices. There were also those who produced schnapps in the ghetto and sold it to the Gentiles, despite the fact that it endangered their lives.

A public kitchen was established for the former merchants and the many ghetto residents who were unemployed. They distributed free soup in the two ghettos. The baker Alter Rozenberg received a license to supply bread to the ghettos.

The terrible overcrowding and the severe sanitary conditions caused various diseases as well as a typhus epidemic. A Red Cross dispensary was established, headed by Eli Goldfarb and Monique Morgentaler. Dr. Winogron, along with a group of girls, provided medical help to the needy.

In August 1941, young people began to be sent to forced labor camps in remote places. The first group, 400 men, was sent to the camps in the Poznan area. None of them returned. A group of 60 people, mostly women, was sent to a village for agricultural work. They worked for a landlord that protected them and provided good food. By the end of 1941, four groups had been sent to work.

Two Zychliners were hanged in the Potulice concentration camp in Naklo. They were caught while sneaking out to fetch some potatoes from the field near the camp. In Zychlin, some youngsters escaped from the ghetto and wandered around seeking refuge. Only a few of them managed to reach Russia.

Until the end of 1941, it was possible to bury the deceased in the town's Jewish cemetery. The Germans did not interfere with the funerals. The cemetery guard was not forced into the ghetto. He was allowed to live in his house next to the cemetery.

Yitzhak Kelmer took care of public and cultural life within the ghetto, as well as Zionist work. From time to time gatherings were held, in some cases to collect funds for social assistance.

 

Yaakov Meir Rozendorf, his wife Rachel Blime, Mordechai Koren, and Neche Lifshitz (Bajzer) about to be sent on their final journey to Chelmno death camp

 

In 1942, after the German invasion of Russia, the Nazis began to hasten the execution of their plan to exterminate the Jews. The Nazi commander from Kutno, who excelled in his cruel treatment of Jews, came to Zychlin. Old and sick people were murdered on the spot. The Judenrat's chairman Alter Rosenberg and the police chief Yosef Oberman were also murdered. Yehoshua Zyger, who dared to resist, was immediately shot. It has been said that when the Germans demanded him to surrender the remaining money in the Judenrat's cashbox, he took out some marks from his pockets and threw them into their faces.

In August 1942, when the Zychlin Jews were deported to the Chelmno death camp, only a few managed to escape.

This marked the end of a vibrant Jewish community that had been distinguished by its cultural, political and Zionist activism. The cemetery and its gravestones were also completely razed. There is nothing left of Jewish Zychlin.

“Magnified and sanctified is the great name…” (first words of Kaddish prayer).

 

Grave for the martyrs of Zychlin, containing ashes brought from Chelmno

 

[Pages 133-137 Hebrew] [Pages 315-321 Yiddish]

The liquidation of Zychlin ghetto

by Helena Tzinamon-Bodek

Translated by Leon Zamosc

It was a great shock when people were first hunted to be sent to faraway forced labor camps. It took time, but things calmed down to some extent. Everyone wanted to take comfort in the thought that it would not happen again. In their innocence they did not know that it had been nothing but a sign of what was to come, which would be far worse in its scope and cruelty. There were moments in which one hunting was immediately followed by another. We were persecuted like wild animals and there was no refuge from the murderers. The Germans were assisted by the Jewish police, who knew every nook and cranny in the Zychlin ghetto.

While the first hunt may have been randomly done, the hunts that followed were made by precise selection. Everybody knew that it was Yosef Oberman, the chief of the Jewish police, that prepared the lists of people to fill the quotas set by the Germans. He was the lord of life and death. Awe-inspiring horror. I tried to avoid him, so that his eyes would not focus on me and he would not put me on his blacklist. His influence was so great that he was able to remove from the Judenrat the members that he did not like. Because of him, one of the most honest members of the committee was detained and deported. Bribery and protectionism flourished. The first victims were those who did not have the means to save themselves.

 

Deportation of Jews from Zychlin ghetto to forced labor camps

 

As the deportations to the camps intensified, the population in the ghetto dwindled. There was no family that did not experience the loss of one of its sons. Young girls were also sent in the shipments, among them my friend Melah Rubin. Her brother was a policeman, but his intervention was to no avail. I prepared myself for the worst. But maybe because of my unfortunate father, who had done so much for the town, or simply because it was a matter of fate, some human spark remaining in their hearts prevented them from sending away the only daughter of a mother in despair after losing her husband.

The wave of deportation of Jews to the camps subsided. The relative calm lasted a long time. There were rumors of the defeat of the German army on the Eastern Front. Will our situation improve? Unfortunately, we would soon realize that it would be the opposite. In the meantime, I continued to give lessons to the children in the ghetto, where life was now supposedly “normal.” The number of students was considerably small. One day, Chelmski's niece little Mira did not come to class. When I asked her why she had been absent, she told me a fantastic story about the killing of Jews by gassing. I did not take that “nonsense” seriously, but Mira insisted that the story was true. On Saturday I went to the Chelmski apartment to visit her mother. I found there a very depressed man, a refugee from Krosniewice.

Scared all over, he recounted his horrific experiences. Together with all the Jews of his town he had been taken to the forests at Chelmno. They had been told that they were being going to labor camps. In Chelmno, however, groups of men, women and children were loaded to hermetically sealed trucks. When the engines were turned on, the toxic gases were fed into the trucks. When the corpses arrived at the destination they were burned. He, along with other men, was forced to work unloading the victims. Only miraculously he was able to escape from that place of death.

Shocked, I returned home. That night I could not close my eyes. Zychlin was very close to Krosniewice. It was clear that we were facing the same fate.

At lightning speed, the terrible news spread throughout the ghetto. It was also confirmed by other refugees. Horror, panic and despair gripped the ghetto residents. What to do? There was talk of escaping to Warsaw. People believed that such a large center of Jews could not be destroyed by gas. It was just not technically possible. However, a lot of money was needed to get to Warsaw and there was also the danger of being caught by Germans on the way. Despite the dangers, the wealthier people prepared to escape secretly. For us, that possibility did not exist, first of all because of lack of means. One hundred marks – that was our capital. We had sold everything that could be sold. Komwa, a Volksdeutsche woman who lived near the ghetto, had bought carpets, curtains and other things from us.

The only place we could escape to was the town of Strzegowo. My brother-in-law lived there with his family. We sent them a postcard saying that there was a fire in our house and asking if they could accommodate us in some corner of their house. For fear of censorship we signed with a false name, Nadarski. From their answer, which we got without delay, we realized that they had no clue of what was happening to us. They told us that they would send us a food package.

In the meantime, life went on “normally”, but everybody was frantically looking for a way to escape. That evil was coming to us was no longer in doubt. The question was: when? Behind the apparent calmness, there was intense tension in the ghetto.

I tried not to think about what awaited us. I worked, ate, talked to people and also laughed sometimes, but in my mind the question was constantly poking: how could we escape? Since, as they said, I had “good looks”, maybe I would be able to escape. But what about my mother? If we had to die, we would die together. Saying goodbye was out of the question. We were in a hopeless situation. And it was precisely then that the Andrzej's telegram arrived, delivered by Dr. Winogron. Just a few words: “My dear, if this telegram reaches you, I ask you for an immediate answer”. I was confused. After so many years, that sign of life from Andrzej came at the most critical hour for us. It was the finger of God. I was sure he would do anything to save us, and I was not mistaken. After receiving my reply, he immediately came to us to make arrangements for our escape. Due to the lack of direct contact between Wloclawek and Zychlin he walked from Kutno on foot, despite the frost and the snowstorms.

Meanwhile, life in the ghetto had become unbearably difficult. The German police appeared every day. They conducted sudden searches, beating people to death or shooting them with the most trivial excuses. One woman was murdered just because she got too close to the barbed wire that surrounded the ghetto. Because of the fear, people did not venture outside. Life was slowly dying. The anxiety reached its peak with the arrest of Oberman and Alter Rozenberg, the head of the Judenrat. Those who had connections with the Germans panicked. The Jewish policemen were fleeing. The giant policeman Toroncyk was caught at the border with his son, a 3 or 4 year old boy. They were brought back to the ghetto and murdered near the buildings of the Jewish community in front of the Poles. One of the Poles who was there before the execution was shocked at the sight of the unfortunate father hugging the child in his arms.

Huda came to us annoyed and frightened. He asked us to hide him in the basement offering five kilos of onions as a trade. The German police were after him. In his innocence, he did not imagine that the day would come in which the Germans would erase the traces of their contacts with Jews. Therefore, Huda, whose contacts took place in his home, had to die. His beautiful young daughter had to die too. For that same reason Oberman and Alter Rosenberg had been hanged at the prison. Unaware of her husband's tragic death, Oberman's wife showed up at Rotpel's place early in the morning asking for help. Rotpel could not do anything. He had been fired from his job and denied the right to leave the ghetto.

Panic struck us all. The ground was burning under our feet. People walked around terrified, the fear of death literally in their eyes. Everything pointed to the imminent liquidation of the ghetto. Disconnection from the outside world was a warning signal to us. We had to flee, immediately. Then or never. It was Saturday. The meal was being cooked on the stove. In winter the days were short. It would soon be night. We could not waste a single moment – the following day would be too late. Any moment the Germans would surround the ghetto. We got dressed. Garment on top of garment, no patch on our coats. We said goodbye to the Rotpel family and left.

From a nearby hut we heard the screams of the policemen. There was a search going on. On our windowsill was our cat, howling bitterly. At that moment I envied her. She stayed at home while we had to run away like hunted animals. From the ghetto we crossed the courtyard of a German house on Buszkower street, where we once had lived. We went right, in the direction of the road leading to Gombin. There was a strong blizzard. The passers-by hastened their steps. Nobody noticed us. I stopped a passing cart. The carter said that he was going to Gombin and agreed to take us there for a small fee. There was a lot of snow and the horse was barely able to pull the cart. But we were able to reach Gombin.

 

On Purim 1942, the German raided the homes of the Jews of Zychlin and concentrated them for deportation

 

In the Gombin ghetto there was silence. I stayed at the home of Holtzman, a member of the Judenrat. My mother was received at another family's home. The news we brought shocked the Jews of Gombin. We were the first refugees from Zychlin. We were followed by more refugees. The appearance of Zychliners on the streets of Gombin was a danger. A young woman from Zychlin was caught by the local police and shot dead. On the third day of our escape, a group of young men arrived. Somehow they had managed to escape deportation. In exchange for valuable gifts, a Polish policeman in Zychlin called Pick had allowed them to hide in his house. When the Gestapo surrounded the ghetto, he feared that the Germans would find out. So he ordered the young Jews to go away.

In Zychlin, the Germans gathered all the Jewish policemen, lined them up, and killed them one by one. Yehoshua Zyger gave his life shouting “Long live the people of Israel”. Oberman's wife was taken out of her house and promised that she would meet her husband. After taking a few steps, she was shot in the back and fell to the ground. The fate of Oberman's elderly parents was the same. Of the entire family, only a small child remained. When a neighbor tried to help him, she was shot by the Germans. The child stood in the frost and cried. People were afraid to approach him. Alter Rozenberg's brother was also shot. The German police took groups of Jews to the cemetery and murdered them. The blood of the Jews flowed in the street gutters outside the ghetto. Dr. Winogron's wife was killed for trying to hide a diamond in violation of the Germans' order to surrender all the jewelry.

 

Deportation of the Zychlin Jews: taken on horsecarts to the train station

 

There were desperate acts of madness. Rozia Gelman, a young woman in her ninth month of pregnancy, tried to escape jumping into the river in front of the Gestapo. The German bullets got her. Chelmski's mother, an old woman, was hiding in a coffin for fear of the Germans. She died of suffocation.

In the morning, the Germans brought the carts they had confiscated from the farmers of the surrounding area. The Jews were loaded standing up. They had to cling to each other to avoid falling. The children cried and the women howled as the caravan moved towards the train station. There, they were locked in train wagons intended for animals and taken on their final journey…

Zychlin had become a Judenfrei town (free of Jews). The ghetto no longer existed.

All this happened on the holiday of Purim. It was precisely on the children's holiday, a day of rejoicing, that the Jews of Zychlin were led to their deaths.

 

Property of the Zychlin Jews, piled up in an open field after their deportation

 

Burning the clothes of the deported Jews

 

[Pages 138-141 Hebrew] [Pages 322-326 Yiddish]

The last days of the Jewish community

by Moshe Kelmer

Translated by Leon Zamosc

In 1938, before the outbreak of the war, Zychlin was a town of 8,000 inhabitants, of whom about 3,500 were Jewish. The Jews lived around the market square and on three main streets: Budzyner (later renamed Narutowicz), Pasieka, and Buszkower. Most of them were tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, butchers, watchmakers, and artisans of all kinds. The rest of the Jews made a living from petty trade. Many made the rounds of the surrounding villages, purchasing cattle that they then sold to butchers in the town. There were also poultry and egg traders. Sometimes these businesses were conducted on a bartering basis: the Jew would take textiles and other goods to the villages and come back with the farmers' eggs, poultry and sometimes even veal. There were also some small general stores, grocery stores, taverns and restaurants, liquor stores, a pharmacy, a bank, and the Jewish community offices. There was a Jewish elementary school of 4-5 grades. After graduating, few Jewish students were unable to continue their studies, since that required attending the Christian school, where they did not accept more than 5-10 Jews at a time.

The Jewish youth of Zychlin had a lively social life. Various organizations and political movements had branches in town, including Poalei Zion Right, Poalei Zion Left, Hashomer Hatzair, Hechalutz, General Zionists and more. There were also local branches of sports associations, such as Hapoel, Gwiazda-Shtern and Maccabi. The youngsters had access to a cultural library and opportunities to attend Hebrew classes. In the evenings, they would walk from the end of Pasieka street to the end of Narutowicz street, chatting and discussing world news and other topics. Their arguments often continued until midnight, but nobody tried to prevent them from doing what they wanted. There were occasional fights between Jewish and Christian youngsters, but there was no fear in the hearts of the young Jews.

This continued until the mid-1930s. In 1935 and 1936, however, things changed. The peace and quiet gave way to anxiety, and social life was significantly affected. Night walks in the outskirts of town became dangerous and economic life was shaken. The Poles were influenced by the example of German anti-Semitism and began boycotting the Jewish businesses. The outbreak of the war and the German occupation of Zychlin in 1939 put an end to the activities of the organizations and parties. The town's Jews were left to fend for themselves.

I was drafted into the Polish army, captured by the Germans, and later released. I returned home to Zychlin to find our beautiful town in fear and danger. After 5 pm the Jews were not allowed to be on the streets. Those who were caught outside were shot on the spot. Of course, social visits ceased altogether, and public life was completely quashed. In their homes, the Jews lived in fear. Whenever they heard footsteps, they panicked thinking that it was the gendarmes. And when the gendarmes did enter a Jewish house, it could end in brutal beatings and sometimes even death.

During the day, the Jews were rounded up for hard labor, always under the vigilance of Germans, Poles or gendarmes. They were harshly punished for the slightest motives. Eventually, an office was established to organize the supply of workers. It was located in Yaakov Kelmer's restaurant and was run by Yehoshua Zyger, who had to meet the Germans' demands for labor on a daily basis. Of course, he could not send the elderly and the sick to hard labor. To comply with the Germans' orders, he sometimes had to go out himself to catch friends and send them to work. This caused a lot of resentment. Moreover, some Jews who would get someone else to replace them in the fulfillment of the obligation to work, of course for a fee. This too was a source of bitterness.

In the summer of 1940, all the Jews were ordered, without exception, to leave their apartments, businesses and jobs and move to the ghetto, which bordered on one side on Buszkower street and on the other on Narutowicz street. In the ghetto, two or three families were crammed in one apartment. All the windows facing Narutowicz street were sealed with planks. Life became much harder. There was only one doctor in the ghetto, there were no pillows, it was forbidden to go to the pharmacy, and the diseases multiplied by the day. There was very little food. As far as supplies were concerned, we depended completely on the Judenrat, which was headed by Alter Rozenberg and Yosef Oberman. They received the food from the Germans. Of course, the quantities were not enough for everyone's needs. There were also injustices in the distribution.

 

Israel Zolna, Yoel Lifshitz and Gombinski(ghetto policemen) with a picture of David Gersht

 

The Germans organized a Jewish police force, which had to maintain order within the ghetto. Every day they demanded 100-200 Jews for work outside the ghetto. The work was gruelling and it was always accompanied by beatings. Yehoshua Zyger continued to manage the supply of workers. But then the things changed. Now, the Germans wanted to send people to faraway forced labor camps. Nobody wanted to leave their families behind without knowing where they were going. Every shipment of workers caused a terrible panic and harrowing scenes. The transports were usually made at night, and the tragedy was repeated again and again. Almost all the young people were sent to the camps.

In that new situation, the Germans began to kill the Jews, starting with those with whom they had been in closest contact, such as the suppliers of food and those who were responsible for distributing it. Alter Rozenberg was the first to be murdered with his entire family, followed by Yosef Oberman and his wife, Yidel Gelman and others. Then the Germans appointed a commandant of the ghetto, Yaakov the son of Reuven Gombinski. He was forced to collect from the Jews five marks per person, which was like a fine for the killing expenses. Threatening to shoot anyone who refused, the Jewish police collected everybody's furs and jewelry in one place and delivered the whole hoard to the Germans.

Yaakov Gombinski held office for a very short time, because the order came to deport all the Jews from the ghetto. We understood the meaning of this development. Two men had reached Zychlin from a neighboring town. They told us what had happened to the Jews who had been deported. Some of us believed what we heard, but there were others who did not want to believe. Families and friends gathered in one place to be together at that critical time.

 

The Zychlin Jews awaiting deportation in an open square

 

On the way to annihilation

On the cart, from right, Leah Tatarka, Rachel Gleider, Sara Ketman, Yidel (her daughter), Ita Royza Cohen, Chaya Leah Zyger

 

On a cold night of Purim 1942, the gendarmes raided every house in the ghetto. They concentrated all the Jews in an open square, loaded them on horse-drawn carts, and drove them in the direction of Krosniewice. Our family and the Morgentaler, Borowiak and Bawa families, were together in one of them. There were gendarmes guarding the carts. I knew very well where I was going and what the end would be. I made a decision in my heart and, without saying a word to anyone, jumped out of the cart while the gendarme was not watching. Salk Zlotek and Michael Orenbach did the same and we ran into the woods. They shot at us, but luckily, we were not hit. All night we wandered in the woods until we reached Gombin. We were there two days and in the end they took us to a forced labor camp. Of the three of us, I was the only survivor.

[Pages 141-142 Hebrew] [Pages 326-328 Yiddish]

From the ghetto and the camps to freedom in Israel

by Tzipora Maroz

Translated by Leon Zamosc

My grandmother Esther had the good fortune of passing away right before the outbreak of the Second World War, which spared her the sufferings that Hitler inflicted upon the Jews. My grandfather, Reb Yehoshua Rozengarten, was left alone in his old age, along with my sick aunt Ytele. At the time, my parents and the four of us were living in Kutno, and when the Nazis occupied the town we were interned in the Kutno ghetto. We decided to do everything we could to be with our old grandfather and aunt. We managed to bribe the Germans with money and jewelry, and they allowed us to move to Zychlin, where we joined my aunt and grandfather in the town's ghetto.

The Zychlin ghetto was located on Budzyner street, where grandpa lived. The apartment had two rooms and we all lived together, eight people in total. Later the shamash Yitche also came to live in our apartment with seven more relatives. So we were 15 people in two rooms, without any sanitary facilities.

 

In the Zychlin ghetto
From right: P. Wolkowicz, L. Pytel, L. Glewinski and Chaim Leib Wasertreger

 

By order of the Germans, a Judenrat and a Jewish police force were established. They were responsible for maintaining order in the ghetto. In the fields bordering Buszkower street, the Jews traded with the Gentiles of the surrounding area. Those who had money and jewelry could buy groceries. The Judenrat cared for the poor, providing them a hot meal once a day.

To comply with the Germans' demands, the Judenrat prepared lists of the Jewish population, especially of the young people, to supply workers for the forced labor camps. The Jewish police hunted them down, snatching them out of bed in the middle of the night. I was sixteen years old when I was cut off from my loved ones and sent to forced labor in the camps together with dozens of other girls of my age.

I later learned that my grandfather died in the ghetto. He was privileged too, because in those days it was really a blessing to pass away of natural causes. In 1943, when I was already in Auschwitz, we received a letter from a Christian neighbor informing us that all the Jews of Zychlin had been deported to the death camp in Chelmno, where they had been exterminated.

As the Russians approached Poland, I was taken out of Auschwitz in the infamous death march to Ravensbrück camp and from there to the concentration camp in Neustrelitz. We were released on May 5, 1945. After liberation, I wandered across cities and countries until I reached Kutno, where I hoped to find someone from my family. But none of them remained. They all perished at the hands of the murderers. In Kutno I met with a classmate who was destined to be my husband, and we both decided that the only way open to us was going to Palestine.

In Poland, we met with other members of Hashomer Hatzair. We organized into a group and contacted the leaders of the movement. We arrived in Germany with fake identification papers. There we joined a Aliyah Bet group named after Tosia Altman. We were taken to Italy and from there we sailed to Eretz Israel. We arrived at the port of Haifa on April 1, 1946, but the British Mandatory authorities did not allow us to disembark and deported us to Cyprus. We spent more than a year in a camp, where our first son was born. The Jewish Agency had requested the British government to at least release the families with small children and allow them to enter Palestine. Thus, thanks to our baby, we arrived there even before the independence declaration of the State of Israel.

We first lived in an immigrants' camp in Raanana, then in Kibbutz Hazorea, and in 1947 we were among the first settlers of Kibbutz Gazit. Our path was full of suffering and anguish, but we were finally able to begin a new life of freedom in Israel.

[Pages 143-143 Hebrew] [Pages 329-332 Yiddish]

An appeal to the American Joint

by the Committee of Dabrowice Jews in Zychlin

Translated by Leon Zamosc

 

Letter from the Dabrowice Jewish refugees in the Zychlin ghetto

 

July 10, 1940
To: Representatives of the American Joint in Warsaw
From: Jews deported from Dabrowice, currently in Zychlin ghetto

Respected Gentlemen!

We are approaching you with an urgent request written in tears, and we hope you will respond to our petition.

We, the Jews of Dabrowice, have not had a wealthy person among us for many years. Each one of us has barely made a living, just earning for our daily bread. In recent days, following the introduction of forced labor, we are suffering terrible despair and fear of extinction. None of us has property and our existence is completely broken. We cry and wonder what will be our end. Our anguish and torture surpasses all our previous sufferings. We were expelled from our homes, naked and destitute, and taken to the Kutno ghetto, where we lived under the open sky for three weeks and suffered from hunger and the rain falling on us.

We have now been deported from Kutno to the Zychlin ghetto and we are in a state of despair. We have no way of getting bread. We were left without money, without a livelihood and without appropriate clothing.

We turn to the esteemed officers of the Joint with words from a sore heart: Dear Sirs, save us from the deep water in which we are drowning. Reach out to us for help! Maybe we are not completely lost yet. We hope our weeping reaches to heaven. Maybe there is hope to save us. Our situation is very tragic and it is difficult for us to describe everything.

We are one hundred and forty people, all very poor. There is no one among us with money in his pocket to buy a slice of bread.

Have mercy on us and send us immediate help through the Zychlin delegates who are now with you in Warsaw. Do not delay, lest it be too late, God forbid.

 

The Jewish families from Dabrowice, expelled to the Kutno ghetto and later to the Zychlin ghetto

 

We intended to go with the delegates to visit you but, due to the costs and the difficulties in obtaining a travel permit, we can only send you this letter, and we hope that you will respond as if we were there in person. The Zychlin representatives will inform you about our tragic situation. When we were in our own homes we did not request your help despite the fact that we were already facing difficulties. But now, when we have reached a state of despair and hopelessness, we appeal to you with these words: Please, do not ignore our petition.

With deep appreciation, we end our request.

Committee members: Rabbi Moshe Drachman of Dabrowice, Meir Vigodski, Michael Isaac (last name unreadable)

 

[Pages 333-334 Yiddish]

In Auschwitz and Buchenwald

by Leibish Tadelis

Translated by Janie Respitz

Edited by Leon Zamosc

I, the son of Binyamin and Esther Tadelis, born and raised in Zychlin, lived in the Zychlin ghetto under Hitler's occupation during the years of the Second World War. When the Germans rounded up 110 Jews and sent them to the forced labor camps, I was one of them.

After a few months in the camp, the children of Yoruchem Levin came and crying bitterly told us that their father had died. Since Yoruchem was a Cohen (from the priestly class), we thought that it was a bad sign, a sign of an epidemic in the camp. And that was what actually happened. Right after him 10 more Jews died. The eleventh was another Levy, Mordechai the Watchmaker's son, Levkovitz.

I met other people form Zychlin in the camp. Among them was Aron Sanitzki. He told us that the Germans had executed Boruch Rubin, Yitzhak Sochaczewski, and Berl Sarna. They were hanged because they had asked for a piece of bread.

In 1942 I was sent to Auschwitz. There I met Faleh Zlatkin who helped me a lot. I also found my brother Yaakov but I was only able to stay with him for three days.

After three years in Auschwitz I was sent to Buchenwald, where I spent two weeks before they took us, 2,000 Jews, on a death march to Dachau. Anyone who was unable to walk briskly was shot on the spot. On the road I met Hanoch Bielawski, Yakel Diner's son in law. From then on we were together. We had practically nothing to eat or drink for three months. We were exhausted. One night, as we dragged ourselves like corpses, Hanoch told me he was going to escape. When he jumped into the bushes I did the same.

This was on April 23, 1945. The Americans liberated the region a few days later.

After liberation I was in Germany. We communicated with Sam Berman of the relief committee of the Zychliners' society in America and received addresses of our families in America. I also found my brother in Feldafing. We remained together until we immigrated to America.


[Page 144 Hebrew] [Pages 334-335 Yiddish]

Act of heroism

by Yaakov B.

Translated by Janie Respitz

Edited by Leon Zamosc

In one of the Nazi forced labor camps, a Jewish boy that worked in the camp's kitchen was caught burying a few potatoes. The Nazis decided to carry out a public execution of the unlucky child in order to instill fear in all the Jewish prisoners.

In the evening they ordered a roll call. All the camp's inmates had to line up on one side, across from the SS murderers. They brought the child who had dared stealing the potatoes to calm his bitter hunger.

Without saying a word, one of the officers, smiling like the devil, approached the boy, pulled out his pistol and emptied the entire bullet cartridge into his small body. The child fell to the ground covered in blood. The murderer looked around with sadistic enjoyment and holstered his gun.

There were Jews from Zychlin in the camp, among them Moshe Kelmer, the son of Hirsch Mordechai Kelmer. When he saw the child's shooting, Moshe's eyes darkened. He felt a deep, immense hatred toward the murderers. He jumped out of line, grabbed an iron bar that was lying on the ground and threw it at the SS officer hitting him on the head.

The Germans immediately opened fire on this heroic young man, killing him on the spot. He fell near the boy whose spilled blood he had acted to avenge. With his martyr's death, that young Jewish man from Zychlin sanctified the heroism of those who resisted Hitler's murderers.


[Pages 335-336 Yiddish]

Memories of the war

by Moshe Zyslender

Translated by Janie Respitz

Edited by Leon Zamosc

September 1, 1939. The war broke out. Hitler's Germany attacked Poland.

Men were mobilized, Jews and Christians. They were accompanied to the gathering points by their parents, wives and children, with tears in their eyes.

After the bombing of cities and towns a regular stream of refugees began. Many of them wandered through Zychlin.

My mother Fraydl of blessed memory took the initiative to organize a kitchen in our store and cooked soup and tea for the refugees. She only took a bit of money to cover expenses. She arranged for two families from Turek to sleep in our shop at no cost.

On September 12, the Germans entered Zychlin. Bread was rationed and the Poles were pushing the Jews out of the bread lines.

The Germans began to press-gang Jews for various jobs. I was in Lodz and heard that many Jews were escaping to the Soviet-occupied part of Poland to save themselves from the Nazis. My mother agreed that I should run away. Israel Lenchinski and his cousin Moshe Lenchinski escaped with me.

After great effort and exertion we arrived in Bialystok on our way towards the Urals. I worked hard to receive a bit of soup in the factory's kitchen. We had to stand in line for hours to buy a loaf of bread. To calm my hunger I had to sell my last possessions. The climate was also difficult. I was not used to the freezing cold and contracted typhus. It was a miracle that I recovered without any treatment. But the illness made me very weak and I was assigned to easier work with a locksmith.

From there I went to Lviv where I met people from Zychlin. Since I did not have a Soviet passport I was arrested and sent to Yaroslavl to work in the forest at starvation wages. Every day a few would die from hunger. The Russian guards teased us, saying that we would all meet the same end.

I returned to Lodz when the war ended in 1945. I visited Zychlin but there were no Jews in the town. I walked through all the streets and could not find anyone.

My family's roots in Zychlin went back for generations. But nobody remained, even the cemetery's graves had disappeared. There were no Jews living or dead.

The Poles walked through the streets. Some were murderers who had helped the Germans annihilate our people.

My great grandfather, Israel Eisenstadt, had a brewery in Pasieka. In 1860, during the uprising of the peasants, the local nobility escaped to Paris and my grandfather took over the management of the estates, providing arms and supplies to the rebels. My grandmother, who was then a young girl, smuggled the weapons and food to the peasant fighters in the forests.

Today, there is no trace of anyone, not even tombstones in the Jewish cemetery…

[Pages 144-145 Hebrew] [Pages 337-340 Yiddish]

The bitter end

by Michael Schwartzberg

Translated by Leon Zamosc

The war came to Zychlin on Friday, September 1, 1939, at 6 am with ululating sirens, the terrifying sound of aircraft, and shell explosions. There were fires and cries of fear. There was blood. Throughout the day the city was bombed and there were many casualties. Zychlin, which was an important transit station for the Polish army, suffered more bombing than other cities and towns.

The outbreak of war had caused an immediate shortage of food. Together with other activists, Yitzhak Kelmer set up a committee to help the refugees who came to Zychlin from other towns. The committee operated while the fighting between the Polish and German armies continued. At that time, we removed from the library the whole archive, hiding some documents and burning the rest, to avoid endangering our main public activists.

On September 17, the Germans occupied the town. As soon as they entered, they expelled the Jews from their homes around the market square. We stood there for a few hours, surrounded by guards who fired over our heads to scare us and finally made us run back to our homes. In the following days, Jews began to be rounded up on the streets or taken out of their homes for various jobs. The Jews were told that they were no longer allowed to trade in foodstuffs. The Jewish grocery stores, butchers and bakeries were closed. The bakers were put in prison to extort ransom. The decree was then revoked and the bakers were released.

Very soon the Germans issued new decrees. Jews were not allowed to leave their homes after 5 pm. Anyone who violated the order would be shot. In any case, the Jews were already refraining from leaving their homes for fear of being caught for work. They were also afraid of other abuses, since the Germans enjoyed tearing the men's beards together with the facial skin, or taking off their shoes and sending them home barefoot through the mud and snow. On top of being left without a livelihood, the Jews had to do compulsory work for the Germans. An employment office was set up to provide Jewish workers to the Germans.

 

Forced labor in Zychlin

 

In November 1939, the Jews were ordered to wear yellow badges on the left side of their outer garments, both on the front and the back. They were not allowed to use the sidewalks. Instead, they had to walk in the street “with the horses” (as written in the ordinance). The Jews had to take off their hats when they saw a German in the street – otherwise they would be severely punished. The Polish neighbors were indifferent to the persecution of the Jews. In many cases they actually assisted the criminal acts of the Germans. Part of the Jewish youth fled east, to the territories that had been occupied by the Russians. They thought that redemption would come from there …

In June 1940, two ghettos were established in Zychlin. Hundreds of mothers with their children walked the streets in the direction of the ghetto, dragging their belongings with them. But that was immediately stopped when the Germans forbade the Jews to remove their property from the homes they were leaving. Inside the ghetto, three or four families had to share a small room. This caused a great deal of distress, quarrels and fights among the families.

I went to Warsaw and contacted the Kibbutz Borochov training farm, which had been moved to Lodz at the beginning of the war. I assisted in the transfer of the pioneers that had been preparing for aliyah, from Warsaw to Bialystok. From there they tried to get to Palestine in one way or another. But only a few were able to reach their goal. Many died on the roads, and some took part in the Bialystok ghetto uprising.

I drank the cup of poison to the fullest. Many times I saw death before my eyes. I stayed alive because I was lucky, not because I was smarter. When I returned to Zychlin after the war I did not find anyone. It all went up in the smoke of the cremation pits at the Chelmno death camp. That was the end of a Jewish community that had existed for generations.

 

Remembrance ceremony at the grave for the martyrs in the Zychlin Jewish cemetery,
which contains ashes brought from Chelmno

 

Zychlin survivors at a memorial meeting after liberation

 

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