Table of Contents

[Page 189]

With the Book

With awe and love, with a holy reverence and torn heart, and with heavy grief I will try in these pages of this memorial volume, to record the memory of the holy souls, the memory of the scred people of our town Bardejov. But before I do this, I will quote from the writings of a great humanitarian, the revered first President of Czechoslovakia, the beloved Thomas G. Masaryk.

In an article published in “Besedy Casu” of February 24, 1914, he writes:

In the fifties, every Slovak in the region of Goding was educated in anti-Semitism by his family, school, church, and all society. The Jews, we were told, used the blood of Christian children for their Easter holidays. The superstition about the use of Christian blood was so deeply instilled in me that whenever I chanced to meet a Jew I never went close to him. I always stared at his fingers to see if there was blood on them. This stupid habit remained with me a long time.

The above paragraph is sufficient to describe the thinking of most of the Slovakian people up to and including the horrible years of 1939 to 1945. No wonder that the Slovaks did not need the help of the Germans to deport the Jewish population from Slovakia to their death camps in 1942.

I am not a professional writer, but during the post-war years I was able to find the registration of all Jews, which was forced upon us beginning in 1942, and the subsequent list of the certificate holders who were permitted (although temporarily) to stay in town. Also I knew that a certain Hlinka gardist of the name Gluvńa had taken photographs of the first deportations on May 16, 1942. After the liberation I forced him to return the photographs to me and they are published here in this book. To my knowledge they are the only available photos of deportations in Slovakia.

From the Jewish population of Bardejov, which numbered around 4,000 in 1942, about 85% were deported and annihilated. The majority were brutally killed a week after Sukkot 1942 in the woods of Konska Wolya near Opole, district Pulavi in Poland.

May the good Lord avenge their blood and we, we will recall them with love, and their pure souls bound in the bond of life with the souls of the virtuous and the pure. Amen.

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The History of the Bardejov Community

Between 1918 (when the Republic of Czechoslovakia was established) until the dismemberment in 1938, the Jews had full religious and economic rights as the entire population.

From the two satellites created by the Germans (one was Croatia) the other was Slovakia. This independent state was created March 11, 1939, after the head of the Hlinka Party, Dr. Joseph Tiso, paid a visit to Hitler and promised him that the new State of Slovakia will be allied with Germany and will concern themselves intimately with the Jewish question.”

The first government officials were: President Dr. Joseph Tiso, Prime Minister Dr. Vojtech Tuka, Foreign Minister Dr. Durčansky and Interior Minister Sańo Mach, the Head of the Central Economy August Moravek and the Expert of Jews Dr. Vasek. the Central Economy Office was set up in 1940, for the purpose of enforcing anti-Jewish measures. In a sense the Economic Office was a Ministry of Jewish Affairs. Actually, the Interior Minister Sańo Mach combined his duties as commander of the Hlinka Guard (which was the Slovak counterpart of the SS) and his jurisdiction comprised the forced labor camps, concentration and the deportations. The German legation supplied the initiative through the Mission head Von Killinger of the SA; and later by Hans E. Ludin. On August 1, 1940, Von Killinger requested an “advisor” on Jewish questions. The advisor Hauptsturfuhrer Dieter Wisliceny of the RSHA arrived in Slovakia on September 1, 1940. With his arrival the machinery of destruction in Slovakia was complete.

On April 18th, 1939 (one month after the Slovak state was declared), it enacted the first anti-Jewish law: a definition of the Jews. Soon came the new law; the “Aryanization” of the businesses held by Jews and confiscation of property. The Jewish code (Kodex) adapted in September 1941 contained over 200 anti-Jewish paragraphs.

Slovakia was a small country with a population of 2,500,000. The total number of Jews according to the census of December 1940 was 88,951. About 12,000 owned “enterprises” (they were shopkeepers); another 22,000 were private employees; a few thousand were government workers and professionals. The Jews in government services were not dismissed until September 1941, with some exceptions. Also the professionals were not barred from their functions until later in 1942. The Aryanization process lasted approximately 3 years (from 1939 to 1942). By January 1942, 1,000 enterprises had been entirely liquidated, 2,000 had been transferred and a few “complicated” cases awaited disposition.

The Slovak Government was eager to share in profit-making and accordingly in 1941, the Jews were ordered to register their property. Cash over 5,000 crowns

[Page 187]

had to be reported. the total amount registered was 164,000,000 crowns which was over $100,000,000 dollars at official rates of exchange. The Slovak government also confiscated the Jewish immobile property, valued at 860 million crowns. by this the government wanted tor reduce inflation and also raise money. The Slovaks also made all Jews register their valuables. There was also a “fur” action, for the purpose of relieving the suffering troops at the Russian front. The Jews were ordered also to surrender “hoarded goods”.

The Slovak government was not satisfied with the confiscation of property, real estate and valuables. Like other governments they needed some cash and therefore the registered assets were subjected to a 20 percent property tax, payable in five installments.

The close to 700 million crowns were actually collected by the Jewish community and delivered to the Slovak Finance Ministry. By October 1941 the Jews holding working permits dwindled to 3,500. These permit holders were not subjected to forced labor and for a longer time exempted from concentration and deportation measures. The forced labor camps came into existence in the Fall of 1941, when most Jews were already out of work. The camp network was run by a Commisar in the Ministry of Interior, who supervised the camp commanders; the Joewish organizations stood by as an “auxiliary' organ.

There were three camps: Sered, Novaky and Vyhne, plus eight camps for heavy workers. Another labor organization was maintained by the Defense Ministry which employed only young men who would have otherwise been subjected to military service. Of these about 3,500 remained in the camps in 1943.

One of the first important ghettoization measures was the creation of a central Jewish organization (Judenzentrale) the Ustredńa Zidov, to which all the Jews were subjected. They helped in the expropriation process, and collected the property tax and helped administer the labor camps. One of the first tasks of the Ustredńa Zidov was also the issuance of identity cards to all Jews. The marking of the Jews started first in Eastern Slovakia but the extension of this law for the rest of the country was only in September 1941 through the Kodex.

On March 9, 1942, the Jewish star was extended from 2 1/2 inches to four inches. Intermarriages were prohibited. Jews were limited to travel in third class railway compartments, and were not permitted to drive cars. In October the Jews from Bratislava were expelled. The Slovak capital had a Jewish population of 15,000 but only 10,000 were subject to expulsion. The remaining, holders of work permits and professionals (with their families), were permitted to stay. All others were scheduled for departure to provincial towns, labor camps and labor centers.

To accomplish this resettlement, the Jewish community organization had to create a new division for the processing of the Bratislava Jews. The administrative division of the Ustredńa Zidov designated the new residence of the victim and handed him over to the police. The last step of this procedure involved the dispatch of an Ordner to the apartments of the prospective expellees. There the Jewish Ordner divided the prospective expellees for furnishings. The first transport left Bratislava on October 28, 1941, and during the next three months half of the capital's Jews were expelled.

To Bardejov were assigned 80 families from Bratislava. Although the Jewish community was already overtaxed with the approximately 300 escapees from

[Page 186]

Poland who arrived in 1940, the Jewish community welcomed these newcomers with open arms and assigned them dwellings in the city and mostly in the villages of the county. Every detail was expertly handled by the Jewish population of Bardejov and no family or individual was left homeless.

At the same time, Germany made inquiries to the Slovakian foreign office with a view of deporting the Slovak Jews to the Reich. Accordingly the German ambassador in Slovakia reported that the Slovak government had consented to the deportations of its Jews from Germany but reserved the right to confiscate the victims' property. Himmler instructed the German government to make available 20,000 young, strong Slovak Jews for deportation to the East. This helped to establish the legend of “resettlement” in Slovakia.

The Slovakian government expressed its pleasure with the deportation of the 20,000 young, strong Jews. Without waiting for the deportation of these Jews, Himmler now proposed that Slovakia be made free of Jews. For the cost of accepting the Jews by Germany, the Slovakian government had to pay 500 marks per head (45 million marks for the 90,000 Jews from Slovakia, if deported).

The first deportations started on March 26, 1942. In our hometown of Bardejov, it started with the deportations of boys and girls over 16 years of age. This was the second day of Chol Hamoed Pesach, 1942. Some of these youngsters were able to hide, or crossed illegally to Hungary.

On May 15, 1942, a delegation from Bratislava consisting of Ing. Karl Hochberg and Ing. Ost arrived in Bardejov, and they were in charge of deporting the rest of the Jewish population. All of Bardejov Jewry, except the ones who had in their possession an exception certificate from the Ministry of Interior or from the head of the county (Okresny n áè elnik), were concentrated in the main synagogue, or smaller houses of worship.

The actual deportation was carried out between May 16th and 17th. On these days hundreds of horse drawn carriages arrived from neighboring villages to collect the families (who were assembled in front of their homes) and drive them to the train station. There they were pressed into cattle vagons at the rate of 80 people to a vagon without any food or water. All that they were allowed to take with them was their backpack that they carried. After the initial deportation of May 15-17, a new law forced registration of all remaining families was ordered.

Deportations continued in Bardejov until October 1942, by eliminating from the lists the parents, in-laws of the “legal” ones, and also by daily searches (“raizia” - “lapačkes”) for hidden families and individuals who were able to find refuges with the remaining families or had their own
bunkers” or hiding places.

A number of families sought “Aryan” papers, or obtained false documents of conversion to the Catholic or Protestant faith. By June, 52,000 Jews from Slovakia were deported to Poland. The rest had protective letters (vÿnimka's) certifying that the bearer was essential to the economy.

We must note at this time, that through the personal intervention of some Bardejov Jews, who were at that time legal residents, hundreds of people were taken out from jail at the last minute, or even from the train station. The following individuals had great influence with the local or county police and also with the head of the town Nacelnik, or his deputies: Meyer Rosenwasser and his brother Moshe Rosenwasser (now Henry roven), presently living in Los Angeles.

[Page 185]

California; Markus L. Lowy (the son of Refael Lowy), also now in Los Angeles, Jokub Schondorf (died in Israel at the ge of 51); and the wife of Mendel Schiff (now in Montreal, Canada), who had very close contacts with the deputy of the Economic Ministry Chef, Dr. Paškovič.

By March 1943, a total of 57,545 Jews were deported from Slovakia. After accounting that about 7,000 escaped, they were approximately 25,000 left in Slovakia at that time. The deportees were encouraged to write home postcards, and long after they were already dead, their little notes were sent to the relatives still in Slovakia.

The feeling about the fate of the deportees could not be dispelled to some of the Slovak population. Eventually some Slovakian bishops put pressure on Prime Minister Tuka. He in turn put pressure on the German legation. He received a letter from Adolp Eichman dated June 2, 1943 that a mixed Slovakian delegation, under the leadership of Frantz Fiala (editor of Grenzbote), visited the resettlement towns in Poland, and reported of their normal living conditions. This article of Fiala appeared in the Slovakian press, with a photograph of some Slovak Jewish girls relaxing outdoors.

At the end of August 1944, a revolt broke out in Western Slovakia and within 48 hours the Slovak government descended from a puppet regime to a mere shadow. The Germans took over control completely. a new Obergruppenfuhrer with the name Gottlob Berger arrived, who was a Chief of prisoners of war for Eastern occupied territories. he arrived together with another high SS officer, Vitezka.

Their commandos pushed forward tot e new combat zone and destroyed the Slovak units and accordingly the entire revolt collapsed. A new Slovak government under the leadership of another Tiso (not related to Jozef Tiso) was proclaimed. The German Ambassador Ludin ordered the capture and deportation of Jews that remained in Slovakia. Approximately 14,000 Jews were caught. A few thousand were able to hide and lived through the war, mostly hiding in the Slovakian woods.

Bardejov was liberated on the night of January 19/20, 1945. With the liberation of the town, seven hidden people were also liberated: Abraham Kurtz, his wife, Sara, and Zalman Leib Unger and his wife, Etta (who were hiding in the cellar of their house on the main square); a few doors away, in the cellar of Shlomo Neuman's house were his son, Moshe L. Newman, Leibish (Cine's) Friedman and Avrum Leiser Grussgott (the author of this article).

Abraham L. Grussgot

[Page 184]

My Story

My great-grandfather, Shiye Fechter, lived in Bardejov from way before World War I. He had one son, Gedaliah, and three daughters: Zissel, Brucha and Laya. He was well-known in town under the name of Reb Shiye. His occupation was being a Rebbe for young men. His son-in-law, Manachem Mendel Gerlich from Rimanov, who married his daughter Zissel, was usually referred to as Mendel Reb Shiye's. Mendel Gerlich ran a fruit and vegetable stand and for many years lived on Bardejovsky Dlhy Rad, at Demčko's.

Gedaliah, the son, married and lived in Novy Sanz, where he perished with his family during the Holocaust. Brucha married and had a son, Shiye, and a daughter Sarah. Brucha's husband did not return from World War I, and since his death was never established, she remained an agunah. Her son lived with his paternal grandparents in Bobova, and she and her daughter lived in Bardejov with her sister Zissel Gerlich. Laya, the other sister, became blind in her teens and also lived with her sister Zissel. They were all deported in 1942.

Mendel and Zissel Gerlich had three children. Srul, the older son, died shortly after marriage leaving no children. Sarah Miriam, the daughter who was a very close friend of Malkah Halberstam, married Meyer Zsupnick from Kosice. He was a brother of Srul Zsupnick. She and her husband lived in Kosice, had three children and all perished in Auschwitz in 1944.

Moshe Aaron Gerlich, the second son, married Ruchel Spira from Svidnička. He moved there and took over the family grocery store. Moshe Aaron and Ruchel Gerlich had nine children. Their names were as follows: Avrum Sholomo, Miriam, Sarah, Srul Shiye, David, Meyer Wolf, Esther, Chaya Ratse and Feiga. At the time of deportation the oldest was twenty and the youngest three years old. All of them, with the exception of one, were taken to Maidanek in the Spring of 1942.

The only survivor was a daughter, the second child, Miriam who is writing this memorial. I spent most of my life in Bardejov with my grandparents. I attended school there from first grade on, and after finishing I took up sewing classes with Malkah Halberstam. Shortly after that the decrees against the Jews became the order of the day. After being in hiding for a while, I was deported in July 1942. I spent most of the time in Auschwitz, two months in Hindenburg, and was liberated in Bergen Belsen in April 1945.

In July of the same year I returned to Bardejov for a short stay and then lived in Kosice with my cousins chanine and rozsi Amsel. In August of 1946 I married Zvi Eisner in Kosice and moved to Prague. In May 1947, we came to America and in 1949 moved to Ellenville where my husband has held the position of rabbi since then. We have one son, Moshe Aaron.

The story of my survival is similar to the many stories of other survivors, with some variations. Everyone is well aware of the fact that to spend two and a half

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years in Auschwitz and Birkenau, meant to face death daily and that survival to the end was a miracle one hardly ever dared dream about. The only experience I care to recall is that occasionally I had the opportunity to be of help to some people, which under the circumstances was a very rare but most precious and rewarding experience. I tried to take advantage of such opportunities whenever they presented themselves, for they were a great help to sustain one's humanity.

I want to make mention of one of my uncles, who left no survivors, and who was my mother's twin brother. Nute Spira lived in Hazlin, not far from Bardejov, for many years. Around 1940, he and his wife, Cilka, and daughter, Chaya, moved to Bardjov. They lived there until the time of deportation in 1942.

Miriam Gerlich Eisner

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How I Survived

Until May 1944 I was a legal dependent of my father who had an exemption (v'ynimka) from the Interior Ministry. When a new law was promulgated, my father, brother and I were moved to the Western sector to Zlaté Moravce. There we were warmly received by the local community, especially by Rabbi Schlesinger, who supplied us with a small apartment in the yard of the synagogue.

When the Soviet Army came closer to the borders of Eastern Slovakia, I decided to go back to the East and come back to Bardejov. This was made possible by a fake document supplied by my friend Zalman Leib Unger, which was made out on stationery from the Interior Ministry. It said that on the recommendation of the Education Ministry, with the approval of the Ministry of Defense, I was permitted to travel to the Eastern sector of the State, including Bardejov.

When I arrived in Bardejov, there were still a few Jewish families, including Dr. Margit Karniol-Weiss, her husband Joseph, and two daughters, as well as Dr. Samuel Singer, Dr. Grosswirth, Dr. Grossman, Dr. Radač and Dr. Austerlitz. I chose to live with the Karniol family. Also hidden in two cellars were Mr. and Mrs. Abraham Kurtz, Zalman Leib Unger and Etta Abrahamowitz. In the second cellar was Moishe Neuman.

My good friend Chaim Itzchok Folkman had already joined with a local partisan underground group in the nearby woods. At that time, in August 1944, three individuals had jumped from the moving deportation train from Debrecen. They came to the vicinity of Bardejov, were caught by the Slovakian police and jailed in Bardejov. I was informed of it and contacted the county prosecutor, Dr. Jacko, whom I visited in his office, and begged to release them. After negotiating with him for a while, he demanded 10,000 Slovak crowns. I immediately got in touch by phone with Ephraim Hocheiser (now Frank Horny, who was living in Bratislava). He told me to go to Dr. Kramarik, who would provide me with the necessary funds. I took the money to Dr. Jacko, who released the escapees and they went into hiding in the vicinity of Liotovsky Mikulas, where they survived the war. They now live in the United States.

In the middle of September, the situation became worse and the few remaining families of Bardejov were deported. Only Dr. Weiss, her husband and children were able to hide in the village of Hrabske, near the Polish border. The dentist Tibor Welles, his mother, Otto Wahrman and I followed them to Hrabske where we lived with the Kijovsky family.

In the middle of November, some villagers informed on us and the German S.D. surrounded the house, and Welles, Wahrman and I were caught. We were taken to the jail in Bardejov for one night. Subsequently we were taken to Prešov and jailed in the former College. There we were without food for three days. On the fourth day we were able to remove one iron bar from one of the windows. We broke the cellar door and ran to the yard, from where we jumped two fences. We separated. I went to a store formerly owned by a relative, Menye Krautwirth. Welles and Wahrman were caught and deported. Only Otto Wahrman returned and is living now in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

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After receiving 200 crowns from the women who ran the Krautwirth store, I ventured to the home of a train station official, who name was Petenyi. For an entire year, Mr. Petenyi had smuggled people into Hungary. He fed me but warned that I could not remain in his house as he had two German officers as tenants.

I knew of a photographer who lived on Aryan papers and even had a photo studio in the center of town. I visited him and he recognized me. With this new photo I went to see a certain Mr. Drobniak, whose brother was the manager of the Bodner liquor store in Bardejov. He took the photograph to Bardejov and Mr. Adam Bomba provided me with a new identity card, under the name of Juraj Sima.

I took a chance, went to the train station, and took the last motor train to Bardejov. On the train I was recognized by a former guard who assured me that he would not give me away. Before the train reached the Bardejov station, I jumped down, and proceeded to the home of the mailman Jozef Kisely. I spent the night with him and his family.

In the morning, Mr. Kisely escorted me to the abandoned attic of Simcha Schlusselfeld's apartment. I asked him to contact Mrs. Buresh and Adam Bomba. Around noontime Mrs. Buresh arrived with food, some winter clothing and 500 crowns. In the evening Adam Bomba arrived and took me to the cellar of Moishe Neuman. There I was hidden in the company of Leibish (Tzine's) Friedman and Moishe Neuman, until the morning of January 20, 1945, when the Soviet Army liberated the town. All total of Jews who were liberated from hiding in Bardejov were: Mr. and Mrs. Abraham Kurtz, Zalman Leib Unger and Etta Abrahamowitz, Leibish Friedman, Moishe Neuman and myself, the author of this book.

Avrum Leiser Grussgott


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