The Year 1941
AS THIS YEAR began, people felt the noose tightening around their throats.
Externally everything appeared calm. For a number of those who dreamed about
autonomous Jewish communities, the national, cultural, and personal autonomy of
the Judenrat seemed authentically Jewish. The Judenrat had new missions to
carry out. All of the Jewish houses were now formally placed under the control
of the S. S., and all rents owing to and from Jews had to be paid to a bureau
set up for that purpose. This bureau, as well as the post office located on the
Plantn, were both inaccessible to Jews after the Plantn was Aryanized. Thus the
Judenrat had to set up a Jewish bureau to manage all the Jewish homes
(comprising 80% of the city), as well as their own post office, with a Jewish
postmaster and officials. The housing bureau was in the very center of the
city, in the Jewish area of Berko Joselewicz Street (between Kadlubek and
Krzyska), and the post office was in the marketplace (at Mandelbaum's house),
with the entrance also through Berko Street.
All of the Jewish businesses, without exception, were Aryanized. That is, they
continued their operations, but every one had to have a German administrator (
who actually controlled the business. The Jew figured only as a servant of the
German. The Jewish food stores, which distributed to the Jewish population the
provisions received from the Judenrat, were in the same situation.
In the spring of 1941, close to Passover, the Jews of Auschwitz (twenty
kilometers from Chrzanow) were ordered-to leave their city immediately. The gas
chambers, crematoria, and other demonic instruments for the total annihilation
of European Jewry were ready. The Germans apparently didn't want any
undesirable populations, especially Jews, so close by. Some of the Jews of
Auschwitz came to Chrzanow. The process of finding places for them to live went
fairly smoothly and with fewer difficulties than during previous mass
relocations, even though the city was rather crowded already.
At the same time the great advance of the German armies against the Soviets
began. Day and night, without interruption, the angels of destruction, who had
already been slaughtering East European Jews for several months, streamed past.
An S.S. group which reached Chrzanow on the first day of Passover stayed there
for several days, tormenting the Jews terribly. There was no one to turn to.
The police in Chrzanow, under the lying degenerate Schindler, who didn't stop
extorting "gifts" from the Judenrat and from individuals in exchange
for his pretend help, organized a show the memory of which still gives one chills. On the seventh day of
Passover the police, together with the S.S., surrounded the minyan praying with
the popular Chrzanow rebe, Reb Chaim Yankele Rosenfeld (m/b/a), led him out
into the street together with his students and congregants, and had fun with
the beards and peyes of the terrified Jews. Later they dragged the same Jews
outside of the city, where they were murderously beaten and forced to do heavy
work on the Jewish holiday. This "'performance," Schindler later
claimed, had been organized to satiate the S.S. officer's lust for a bit of
This name by itself was enough to inspire terror and panic among all the Jews
of the Reich who had been included in the administrative region of Sosnowiec,
under the bureau of labor assignments. Lindner headed this bureau. He was a
wild animal in human form, a cold sadist and an enemy of humanity whom even the
Germans feared. Major Lindner wasn't new to Chrzanow; he was a frequent if
unwelcome guest, whose regular visits cast a pall of terror over all the Jews,
The first to meet this human animal were the young men of Chrzanow who were
taken away in the first transports to the Upper Silesian camps of Sakrau and
Gogolin. When Lindner went to inspect the camps, he sent some twenty of the
young men to Auschwitz on ridiculous pretexts. Apparently these victims were
among the first to die in that gruesome Gehenna. The bitter reports received
from the work camps terrified the relatives and parents of the laborers, and at
that time Lindner would come seeking new victims. The Germans apparently
understood that Merin's fine speeches would no longer convince the Jews to
respond voluntarily to the Judenrat's call, as they once had.
Before dawn on May 9, 1941 the Germans surrounded the entire city. No one was
permitted to enter or leave. They sealed the streets, and like wild beasts they
attacked the houses. They dragged the sleeping Jews, especially able-bodied
men, out of their houses. In those families where the men managed to disappear
into hiding places, the Germans took women hostage.
The Jews were taken off in groups to the assembly area in front of the
gymnasium, and then lined up according to the Prussian military drill system.
None other than the anti-Semite Lindner and his staff officers Knol and
Kutshinsky came out to receive them. (After the Liberation the latter was
spotted by Jews from Chrzanow in Weiden, Bavaria, in the innocent role of a
teacher in a German high school. The Polish authorities demanded his
extradition, and in October, 1948 he was sentenced to death by the Polish court
in Sosnowiec.) After the
were checked, all of those who were regularly employed were sent home. In
addition the old or sick, and those who had special connections (there were
such cases) were released. The rest of the Jews, several hundred in number,
were transported to the camps in Upper Silesia.
This action happened on May 10, the day when Hitler's righthand man, Rudolph
Hess, got into his airplane and flew to England. We don't know what effect this
news had in other Jewish communities, but in Chrzanow it was like balm for our
wounds. The joy in the city, the hope that the nest of bandits would soon
collapse, somewhat eased the pain of the families whose loved ones had been
As we have said, the Judenrat maintained a precise list of able-bodied Jews.
During the roundup on May 9, several hundred Jews managed to reach their hiding
places and avoid the "main event. " Lindner recorded these names, and
summoned them on May 25. Once again a number of victims were taken to the labor
camps, this time including several young women..
The establishment of a Jewish militia must also be mentioned in connection with
the labor details. Actually this was a police detail under the command of Fasek
Weber. They had all the trappings of a police force: blue and white caps,
special insignia, fixed working hours, and so forth. These police regulated
traffic in the Jewish streets, made sure that the houses were clean and
orderly, and carried out various missions for the Judenrat. In a word, it was
an authority that could not be ignored, because the Germans stood right behind
them. In the beginning the police appeared to be practical and necessary, but
unfortunately they later brought us endless troubles.
The first appearance of the Jewish police elicited a good deal of envy on the
part of the Poles, although they had absolutely no authority over the Poles.
The Poles watched, furious and dreaming of revenge, as the Jewish policemen
controlled automobile traffic at the city's major intersections. In general
there were no Polish police in Chrzanow during the war, because the city was
80% Jewish. Sometimes when no Germans were around-the city seemed like an
autonomous Jewish state. But there were tragic scenes whenever a labor detail
was mustered-scenes that revealed the full absurdity of this degenerate
institution which the Germans invented as part of our annihilation.
The German attack on Russia didn't surprise the Jews of Chrzanow at all.
Several months earlier they had seen the massive advance of German forces
toward the Soviet border. Webs of hope were spun in the hearts of many Jews.
Who knew? Perhaps there would be a German defeat, and the Russians would
liberate us. On the other hand, if, God forbid, the Germans won, perhaps they
would ease their murderous pogrom, at least for a short time, just as they had
a year earlier during the victories over France and Belgium.
Unfortunately, the outbreak of war with Russia brought a change for the worse.
In addition to the bad news coming from the rest of Poland-the mass slaughters
in Lemberg, Stanislaw, Tarnow-in Chrzanow, too, we could begin to smell the
scent of gas. As in a speeded-up movie, the Germans began to realize their dark
plans. They were desperately eager; they hurried to carry out their mass
slaughters as fast as possible. Regulations fell on us like hail, regulations
with only one aim: to worsen the situation of the Jews and to drive them
together in a crowded ghetto.
In the fall of 1941, the ghetto became much more crowded and shrunken.
Mickiewicz Street, Cracow Street, and the marketplace, where the majority of
the Jews lived, became Judenrein. The Jews were left with only the small,
narrow back streets around the marketplace, along with Krzyska Street and
Kadlubek. The community council was moved to Reb Yakov Lemler's house (on the
corner of Cracow Street and Pipek's Alley [Garncarska]), where it remained
until the final catastrophe.
Even more than before, Jews were forced to go to work each day. Even on the
Sabbath and on Jewish holidays they had to serve the police and S.S. troops,
polishing their shoes, washing the floors, cleaning the outhouses, and the
like. Furthermore, the Jews had to provide a few dozen men each day for work in
town-cleaning streets, clearing snow, and so forth.
Meat, eggs, butter, and milk were forbidden to Jews, even though they were
available in sufficient quantities. German policemen went from house to house
inspecting the pots to make sure they contained nothing forbidden. Our hearts
nearly failed when we heard the tramp of police boots. Many of our women and
children actually did succumb to heart attacks caused by terror, a long time
before they were suffocated and burned in Auschwitz.
Lindner never stopped arranging work details during that period. He continued
to demand (or better, to grab) new victims for the German labor camps. After a
time only girls were taken, because the young men of Chrzanow didn't allow
themselves to be taken so easily. The frequent roundups by the German police
often failed to bring the desired results, because the intended victims often
reached their hiding places. The inventiveness of these people, who wanted to
survive to take vengeance on our torturers, was astonishing-the Germans rarely
came across their cleverly constructed hiding places. Lindner and his Jewish
helper Moniek Merin understood this, and therefore recruited the Jewish militia
to help them carry out the last labor action. They didn't even rely solely on
the local Jewish militia from Chrzanow, instead bringing along some Jewish
police from Sosnowiec for the purpose. In November 1941 a detachment from
Sosnowiec arrived, and with true devotion to the German hangmen, they carried
out their vile task. Although officially only those girls who had been assigned
by the Judenrat to be taken to the labor camp were to be seized, the roundup
by) the Sosnowiec police turned into a general hunt for young women. The
Sosnowiec militia, or "Merin's Bodyguards" as they were called, were
the equal of their German supervisors in many respects. Without second
thoughts, with cynical cruelty, nearly all of them burst into Jewish homes,
searching for terrified Jewish girls, dragging them out of their hiding places,
and taking them to Sosnowiec and thence to the local transit camp. Afterward
the young women, along with similar victims from other towns, were transported
to various labor camps.
At the same time the discriminatory regulations against Jews were increased.
The German police, headed by Schindler, began checking for the most trivial
"sins," such as buying an egg or a chicken from a peasant woman, or
selling something forbidden to a Gentile. The police filled out reports and
punished the "guilty" with a small fine. We thought that these
trivial infractions had been forgotten, but a few days or weeks later the
police turned their attention to these people again. The results of this
attention were quite unfortunate. Those who had committed the infractions
received notices to report to the police on a certain date in connection with
their "crimes." It wasn't until they got to the police station that
the people realized the trap they'd fallen into. The Gestapo from Katowice had
come to Chrzanow for a guest appearance, on the pretext of checking trivial
infractions. Not one of those who was detained even dreamed what was coming.
Without trial, they were sent to Auschwitz; we didn't really know what that
meant yet. Among these victims of German "justice" were the wife of
Moyshe Richter, a mother of four children, who had bought a chicken from a
Gentile woman; Mrs. Guter, guilty of the same sin; Mrs. TaybI Cyzner, who had
sold a few pennies' worth of candy to a Gentile in her own store; and many
The practice of sending people to Auschwitz for individual infractions
continued from May 30, 1942 until February 18, 1943. In general these actions
were called Kripo actions (an acronym for "kriminal police"). This
threat hung like a sword of Damocles over the heads of the Jews of Chrzanow
throughout the last year before the death of the community.
It is interesting to analyze the handling of the various "crimes"
committed by Chrzanow Jews during that period. In order to avoid starving,
certain individuals dealt in currency and gold. These merchants were even able
to buy passes from the Germans permitting them to travel to Berlin and back,
and managed to complete various transactions involving currency. Anyone caught
committing this category of infraction was tried in a court at Myslowice or
Katowice. The accused was allowed to be represented by a defense lawyer, and
the court proceedings were conducted normally. If convicted, the accused was
sentenced to several months in prison and money seized in his possession was
confiscated. On the other hand, the "crime" of buying an egg for a
sick person or a child carried the sentence of certain death in Auschwitz.
This relationship between the sentences for different categories of crime could
have existed only under the Germans. Their goal was to extort from the Jews
their hidden valuables- money, jewelry, securities, and the like. The German
finance minister Viltshok, a frequent guest in Chrzanow, was well informed
about all of these dealings. He had at his disposition a staff of Jewish
traitors from Upper Silesia, the likes of Laderer and others. The merchants
fell into the well-laid trap, dragging a second and a third in with them. Even
after all the Jews of Chrzanow were "liquidated,
Germans didn't desist from finding more Jewish treasure bricked up in the walls
of houses, or buried underground.
The Year 1942
DURING THIS YEAR, torture and pain fell on the Jews of Chrzanow like a flow of
molten lava. No one was surprised any longer by the constant issuance of new
regulations. Unfortunately, their fate had already been sealed. By now they
weren't struggling for personal freedom, but rather for their very lives.
In January 1942 the Gestapo ordered the Jews to surrender all of their gold,
furs, and better clothing. (Actually Jews had long since been forbidden to own
any gold.) All of this was to be delivered to the Judenrat, whose task was to
hand it over to the Germans. The Gestapo told the Judenrat that the more the
Jews delivered, the better impression the Jews of Chrzanow would make on the
The Judenrat devoted all its energies to making sure that as much as possible
was handed over, especially furs and woolens, which the Germans so desperately
needed for their armies in Russia. With nearly all the Jews contributing to
this collection, the Judenrat actually turned over a substantial quantity of
gold, furs, and woolens, which the Germans accepted with their familiar
poisonous smiles. It seemed that these "sacrifices" satisfied those
to whom they were given.
Another incident took place almost at the same time, but with even more fatal
consequences for Chrzanow. As already mentioned, the Judenrat controlled an
economic department, which supervised food warehouses for the needs of the
Jewish population. In one of these warehouses turnips
were stored, and they began to spoil because of a lack of light. The Germans
exploited this accident as an excuse for a murderous action against the
Judenrat itself, with the chairman Betsalel Cuker, the director of the economic
bureau Mendl Nussbaum, and Kalmen Teichler, both members of the Judenrat, as
their main targets. These men, who acted as responsible Jews and members of the
community, were accused of nothing less than sabotage against the Germans. It
was already known in the city that the Gestapo was keeping its eye on Betsalel
Cuker, whose proud and courageous statements had "mocked" the Gestapo
officers Kranuy and Freitag. In Cuker's dealings with these beasts , he neither
bent over backwards nor smiled submissively, as most Jews did at that time when
talking to German officials. For this reason, he also was disliked by his
director Moniek Merin, who was a spiritually crippled Diaspora Jew despite all
his talents. Apparently Cuker, who had a realistic and far-reaching perspective
on the Jewish situation, made Merin uncomfortable. Cuker clearly saw what was
going on around him, and he clearly comprehended the tragic situation the Jews
Several days before his gruesome death, he expressed himself accurately to his
closest colleagues in the Judenrat. He said that in the last analysis the
Judenrat was nothing less than an agent of the Gestapo, and the chairman of the
Judenrat, willingly or unwillingly, was guilty of the murder of his fellow
Jews. The devilish Merin grew afraid of Cuker, who was more intelligent than he
was, and painful though it may be to acknowledge, he brought about Cuker's
Without any investigation or discussion, Cuker, Nussbaum, and Teichler were
taken to the police station, murderously beaten, and sent to Auschwitz. Several
days later telegrams were sent by the Auschwitz camp administration to their
families, announcing the death of their husbands and fathers, even listing a
"disease" from which they had died.
This serious blow, which had in fact been carefully calculated, was felt by the
entire population of Chrzanow. The police later related that when Betsalel
Cuker was taken to the Gestapo chief, the latter had said: "Now we finally
have the proud and cold Cuker in our hands!"
During the first days of March, the entire Jewish ghetto was surrounded by
police and S. S. men, who set about inspecting the Jewish houses to determine
whether the Jews had handed over everything demanded. Anyone found to possess
any furs no matter whether it was an old worn-out coat, or even a child's fur
coat- was taken to the police, where they were detained and beaten brutally. In
the beginning we didn't think much of this, and it seemed that the people who
were taken in would quickly be released. However, when the Germans had detained
ten people, these innocent souls were sent to Auschwitz. Among those detained
were the long-time member of the Chrzanow city council, Reb Chaim Richter
and the well-known WIZO activist, Mrs. Korngold
In order to fill the cup of sorrow, on March 11 came a visit from Major
Lindner. Once again Chrzanow was surrounded. Jews were dragged out of bed. The
angels from Hell took anyone they could catch, those with certificates and
those without, several hundred men women, and children in all. They were taken
to various work camps, where most of them died.
With the liquidation of Betsalel Cuker, whom the more perceptive Jews
recognized as a defender against internal and external enemies, there arose a
gap in the Judenrat- a gap that could not be filled. The Judenrat had no
direction. Chaos reigned, just as the Germans intended, because by that time
the plan for complete annihilation had already been worked out. It wasn't
convenient for the Germans to have to deal with conscious, proud Jews like
In the meantime Merin sent Dr. Boehm to Chrzanow to serve as commissar,
representing Merin as leader of the Judenrat. At the end of April, in addition
to the continuing individual Kripo (Gestapo) cases, the Germans hung seven
Jewish martyrs in Chrzanow, in a gruesome spectacle. Apparently this was the
signal for the complete liquidation of, Chrzanow Jews. These actions were
intended to terrify the Jews and throw them into panic, to break their courage
to resist their tormenters.
There was no shortage of victims for this tragic game, because the police
prison was always occupied by several Jews. Those who were to be hung were
chosen from the interned. The identity of the victims was not important. At
that time an old baker named Reb Yisroel Gershtner and his two sons were
accused by a Polish chimney sweep. He said that he had seen smoke coming out of
their chimney at a time when they were forbidden to bake, and they were taken
to prison. Another Jew named FayvI Weissberger (Fayvl Yoshes) was found in
possession of a bit of coffee. Yehoshua Spangelet "illegally"
possessed a few onions and parsley. Yisroel Frish, an honest merchant, was
taken to prison because he was accused by a German. The seventh victim was a
Jew from Olkusz, who had been found in possession of a piece of sausage. All of
these "criminals" were sentenced to hang. In mid-May 1942, the
Judenrat was ordered to make all the Jews come see their own brothers being
hung. To be sure that the Jews would come, a large number of them had their
personal documents taken away. They were told these would be returned only at
the specially-arranged "Hanging Place" on Krzyska Street.
The Germans prepared for this performance with pomp and circumstance. A truck
carrying a megaphone was driven back and forth through town, announcing
joyfully and triumphantly, "Today seven Jews will be hung, a hundred
tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow all the Jews." All of the uniformed
Germans came in their finest uniforms; German civilians came in their holiday
clothes, with their wives and girlfriends. Seven half-dead Jews were brought to
the "Hanging Place." They had been shaved, and their necks exposed.
They could barely stand up. Seven hangmen brought in for the occasion, along
with their seven assistants, carried out the horrifying murder. The nooses were
strung from seven old trees. Fasek Weber had to test the tree limbs to see
whether they were strong enough.
For more than two hours, which seemed like an eternity, the assembled Jews had
to stand at the "Hanging Place" and watch as their unfortunate
martyred brothers died. Each and every one shouted out a terrifying "Shema
Yisroel!" as the noose was placed over his neck, One of the martyrs
managed to cry out a plea for revenge on the murderers. Following is an
eyewitness statement by the surviving son and brother Menachern Gerstner of Bat
I, Menachem Gerstner (Mendek), born in 1924, want to bring to your attention
details about the murders of my father and my two brothers, Chaim and Shimshon,
who weren't known to Mr. Bochner, the writer of the original book of Chrzanow.
My father was an honorable citizen of Chrzanow. He was a
(Torah scholar); a man known in town for his
Matn Zduku beseiser
(generosity); he was a Zaloshitzer Chasid; he prayed in the
he fasted twice a week (every
In spite of all this he was very liberal. For example, I had very religious
brothers and sisters, but also brothers who were Socialists. One
(played catcher) in the Jutchnia team in Chrzanow and also served in the Polish
army. My sister Zipora married Shlomo Lauber and went to Palestine in 1932.
I also had a brother-in-law, Cyna Horowitz, who served in the city
administration as delegate of P.P.S. (Poland's Socialist Party).
My father had a large family, with 13 children. My mother Sara (Schehnberg of
the famous Kamienica) died at a young age in 1932 and left nine children, none
married. My father was known in Chrzanow as
der Chrzanover Baker
Reb Sruel der Beker.
He was 69 at the day of his death.
And now to the exact description of the events before the killing of the seven
(martyrs) of b/m on April 29, 1942. On April 22 German police escorted by
Gestapo broke in and arrested all the men who were present in my father's
house, without a word of explanation. The next morning my sister Frumka found
out that they were found guilty of violating a German ban not to start up
bakery furnaces. My father had two bakeries: one for the baking of bread during
the whole year, the second only for baking of Mazot for
(Passover) at Bolinska st. 2.
In 1941 the Germans gave an order to my father not to bake bread in the bakery
but they allowed him to use the Mazot bakery for preheating food for the Sabat.
A Polish neighbor saw the smoke and immediately informed the German police.
In April 1942 the Germans decided to begin the final liquidation of the Jews of
Chrzanow. Therefore, in order to frighten us, they were looking for scapegoats.
All the Jews who were at that time in jail had been executed by hanging and so
it happened that my father and my two brothers were among the seven who died
My brother Chaim was 39 at his death. He lived in Auschwitz before the war
where he had his own bakery. He had three children. Men who were present at the
execution told me that he wanted to split the chains and attack the murderers,
but my father didn't allow him, saying: "There are still Jews left in
Chrzanow, the Germans will take revenge. " Then he stepped on the scaffold
and shouted: "Jews take revenge for our blood," and he gave his soul
with Shema Israel on his lips.
My brother Shimshon was 37 at his death. He was a quiet and melancholy man. He
received his fate quietly, saying, "What is written (preordained) above
will happen down here, it is impossible to change anything." And so he
stepped up to the scaffold without a word. At the murder of the seven martyrs,
about 900 people were present. The police had taken away their identity cards a
day before the execution. To reclaim them they were compelled to be present at
the execution. One of them was my youngest sister Frumka. The poor girl was
forced to look all the time at the horror. A plainclothed Gestapo man stood at
her side and made sure that her eyes were turned in the direction of the trees,
where the hanging took place.
Menachem Gerstner Bat-Yam Israel 1988
The hanging of the seven Jews was a signal for the commencement of the planned
liquidation of the Jews of Chrzanow. On May 30, all the Jews of Chrzanow had to
report to one of several designated places. This action was given the innocent
name of " resettlement," and at that time we didn't know exactly what
implied. The Germans ordered everyone to bring along a few personal
possessions. The director of the central Judenrat in Sosnowiec, Moniek Merin,
came, along with his secretary, Mrs. Czarny. Accompanied by Gestapo personnel,
they carried out the selection, determining who was to live and who was to die.
The Jews were lined up in rows and divided into three groups. The first group
was to remain. The second group was to be sent to the camps. The third group,
including the elderly and the sick, was to be resettled." Roughly 3,000
Chrzanow Jews, including the most respected elders such as Reb Nute the Judge,
Reb Chiel Perlstein, and Reb Moyshe Lipschitz (an indefatigable philanthropist
during the occupation)-in a word, the cream of Chrzanow Jewry-were locked up in
the elementary school and synagogues. From there they were transported to
As we have said, a large number of Jews had special certificates, or worked at
various kinds of hard labor. Although the certificates were no longer as
effective as they had once been, since a large number of their bearers had been
taken to the work camps in March, nevertheless several certificate holders
continued to work at various sorts of public employment, organized by the labor
inspector Kleinecke. This German may have been well-intentioned, thinking that
the Jews who worked for him would never be sent away. He also did everything he
could to involve Jews in vital industries, and assured all the Jews working for
him that there was no danger of their being taken to the camps. But in June
1942 all the Jews working for Kleinecke were ordered to go to the camps. They
weren't even given time to bring along their most necessary possessions;
rather, all of these "secure" workers were transported straight from
work to the camps. Once again, the Jews had a chance to evaluate German
The troubles suffered by the Jews of Chrzanow in 1942 can barely be described
in words. As was the case with Job, the troubles came one after the other in
quick succession. Before the Jews could catch their breath, another form of
torture would appear. They didn't have time to think about their desperate
situation. The German race to murder all the Jews as fast as possible took on
such terrible forms that the Jews almost stopped noticing the individual
victims who suffered at the hands of the Kripo or the Gestapo.
Individual Jews, and then eventually entire families, were constantly sent to
the Hell of Auschwitz on various ludicrous pretexts. A typical case of German
behavior was the deportation to Auschwitz of David Wachsberg (Bishte) and Fasek
Weber, two characters about whom the Germans had no reason to complain. It was
impossible to find out why they had been fired; however, the speculation was
that these two, who were also members of the Judenrat, knew too many police
secrets, and the police apparently wanted to destroy the vessels it had used
for its evil goals.
The 3,000 Jews the Germans had just taken away weren't enough for them. The
Moloch of Auschwitz constantly demanded new victims to test the newly-installed
gas chambers and crematoria. Thus it was that at the end of July, or the
beginning of August, the police announced that all Jews still remaining in
Chrzanow were to report to a certain area, where their papers would be stamped.
This was supposedly a census,. enabling the authorities to determine exactly
how many Jews were still in Chrzanow (such were the reassurances of Merin).
While the papers were being stamped, the Germans surrounded the area and the
same "game" was repeated. Several hundred more Jews were seized and
sent down to Sheol.
We need to devote a separate section to the institution in which the Jews of
Chrzanow placed so much hope-the shop. This was a business set up to employ
tailors and others in manufacturing uniforms for the Germans.
At the time the shop worked its way into our bones, like a leech sucking out
our marrow and blood, its victims including the women and minor children who
remained. The shop was supposed to be for our own good, and that was what we
believed in the period just before the final liquidation. Although the shop was
like a thin straw, which a drowning man grabs in the belief that it's a raft,
we soon realized that the special work certificates were no good. The belief
that working for Kleinecke would be the salvation of the Jews burst like a
bubble. Everything we touched smacked of death. Thus it is hardly surprising
that all the Jews who remained in Chrzanow had no choice but to try to get into
the shop, which was nothing but a Fata Morgana, an illusion which deceived, or
more accurately, blinded us.
The attraction of the shop lay, as Jews like to say, in its rationality. The
Germans were at war; they needed clothes for their army. At their disposal was
a large number of skilled tailors, who were eager to work, as long as they
could remain alive. The S.S. took most of the wages. The administration cost
almost nothing, because it was in the hands of the Judenrat. The work was done
quickly and accurately. The conclusion was that the Jews were needed to work in
the, shop, because otherwise the Germans would have no uniforms.
Actually there were two shops. One was a branch of the Trzebinia rubber
factory; the other was a branch of the Berlin firm of Rosner, whose main shop
was in Bendzin.
The shop-generally referred to in the singular-was located in the building of
the Study society, which was most appropriate for this purpose. The adjoining
buildings of the Talmud Torah, the old age home, and the synagogues of the
Radomsk and Bobow Chasidim were also used. Just as in Pharaoh's time, the
Germans didn't provide straw for the bricks the Jews had to make. The necessary
sewing machines and all the other equipment had to be provided by the Judenrat.
An of the Jewish sewing machines in the city were requisitioned, or else the
Jews who wanted to work in the shop had to bring their own sewing machines.
About 1,500 Jews worked round the clock in three shifts-men, women, and
children. The pay was minimal, the work difficult and responsible. The workers
were divided into groups, each supervised by a skilled tailor who was
responsible for seeing that the work was carried out perfectly, with exemplary
order and strict, almost military discipline. The Jews had to work on the
Sabbath and the holidays, including Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
All of Jewish communal life during the last period (roughly from July 1942
until February 1943) was reflected at the shop. Joy and sorrow, trouble and
pleasure filled the buildings. One Jew would speak from the bottom of his
heart; a second told a new joke, or sang a new song. Their common fate erased
the differences between the aristocracy and the common people, between the
erstwhile rich man and the pauper. People sensed instinctively that their lives
hung by a thread, and they enjoyed themselves with a kind of gallows humor for
as long as they could. They laughed and joked at their home troubles as no
other people could possibly have done.
The directors of the shop were Shimon Orenstein and Rosenberg, who were
deliberately and suddenly taken to the Hell of Auschwitz as soon as the shop
began to operate. This detail is worth discussing because one theory, which
cannot be verified today, holds that this case was analogous to the case of
Betsalel Cuker. The central Judenrat in Sosnowiec wanted to keep the majority
of the meager wages sent for the workers in the shop. The two directors
forcefully resisted this move, unwilling to accede to this sort of treatment of
the workers. Sosnowiec did not easily suffer subordinates who had their own
opinions, and considered this behavior to be a rebellion against its rule. It
swept the two men away with the back of its hand. Nor can it be overlooked that
the murder of Orenstein and Rosenberg was intended to terrify the shop workers
into behaving properly, a method that had been used successfully by the Germans
The shop continued to function until the resettlement, when the workers were
taken from their sewing machines and presses to the assembly points, some to
work camps and some to the ovens.
The Year 1943
AFTER 1942, the year of greatest suffering for the Jews of Chrzanow, a degree
of calm settled in early in 1943. This doesn't mean that there was total quiet,
but there were no mass actions, although the daily Kripo actions continued. Two
higher functionaries of the criminal police, Latz and Westphal, were especially
diligent in carrying out these actions. They harassed their victims with
special sadism, shadowing particular individuals in order to catch them
committing some infraction. In most cases, these murderers were successful.
They didn't spare even their closest Jewish acquaintances, from whom they used
to take bribes. (These two murderers were recognized by Chrzanow Jews in 1948
and handed over to justice. They received a fitting sentence from a Polish
court.) In general, apathy was the norm among the Jews of Chrzanow during the
last period before the final liquidation. Like a herd without a will of their
own they marched along, thinking of nothing. All of their energies were devoted
to work in the shop, and the other public enterprises still functioning under
Absurd as it may seem, the distribution of rations to the Jewish population
improved significantly at the very end, when Jews received rations equal to
those of the non-Jewish population. This in itself led to a certain degree of
optimistic faith that those surviving would be left alone. This optimism was
apparently the goal of the Germans in those last hours of our people's death
agony. It helped assure that the German extermination plan would be successful.
This apathetic optimism, in our opinion, virtually sealed the fate of the 3,000
Jews remaining in Chrzanow, and the leaders of the last Judenrat bore
considerable responsibility for the way things turned
Before dawn on Thursday, February 18, 1943, the Germans sealed the city and
drove all the Jews into the marketplace. Just as professional slave traders
came along with the Romans during the destruction of Jerusalem, so too Lindner
and his staff came to the last action in Chrzanow. They selected the younger
and stronger Jews to work as slaves in the German labor camps. (While these
lines were being written, the news came that Lindner had been arrested in
Hamburg. Not only did he fail to express any remorse to the British military
court; on the contrary, he mourned that he had killed so few Jews... One hour
before his trial, he hung himself in his prison cell.) As tragic as it may
seem, during this last resettlement Lindner had competition. The Gestapo came
as well, in order to secure as many Jews as possible for the gas chambers in
Auschwitz. There was very nearly a struggle between the Gestapo and Lindner's
staff-each wanted as large a contingent as possible.
Since the last resettlement came so unexpectedly- since the Jews of Chrzanow
believed that this time, as before, only some Jews would be sent away, and the
rest would be able to stay-we became confused. During the selections at the
Chrzanow market place, when the Germans sent one Jew to the right and the other
to the left, a number of people stole across to the other side, thinking they
were joining the group that would stay in the city. But they were fatally
mistaken. Many young people who, as it later turned out, were intended for the
work camps where they had at least a minimal chance of surviving, thus fell
among those intended for the gas chambers.
The terrible scene at the market place, when people finally realized what was
happening, is difficult to convey in words. With a cold shudder one remembers
taking leave of sorrowing mothers, who had been selected to go to the work
camps but ran voluntarily to the other side to be with their children, thus
earning themselves blows at the murderers' hands.
All the Jews, those intended for the gas chambers and those to be sent to the
work camps, were taken to the gymnasium building. Two transports left from that
place: one to Auschwitz, the second to the infamous Jewish work camp at
Markshtet. The Germans left the members of the Judenrat in the city for a few
more days, so that the remaining Jewish institutions could be liquidated. Then
they were sent to Sosnowiec to stay in the ghetto there.
The tragic fate of Moyshe Nagoshiner, which demonstrates the unreliability of
the Germans, is worth describing.
Among those included in the transport sent to Auschwitz was the Zionist
activist Yosef Hochbaum, who was a member of the Judenrat and director of
finances during the final period, and his family. Moyshe Nagoshiner intervened
with the Gestapo chief, who stopped next to the train carrying the unfortunate
Jews, and asked him to release Hochbaum, whose services were needed in
connection with the liquidation of the finances. The Gestapo chief calmly
listened to Nagoshiner and agreed to his suggestion, ordering Nagoshiner to
enter the train to find Hochbaum among the crowd of Jews. Nagoshiner naively
believed that he had saved Yosef Hochbaum. But just when Nagoshiner entered the
railroad car, the Gestapo chief ordered that the doors be sealed, and the train
started off with Nagoshiner inside, while the Gestapo chief laughed demonically.
On that day Chrzanow became officially Judenrein, although a certain number of
Jews remained in hiding, as we mentioned at the beginning. The Germans
themselves found a few of these hidden Jews, aided by traitorous Poles. Some
voluntarily left their lairs, believing the German assurances that they would
be released. Several days later all of these Jews were taken to Sosnowiec,
where a selection was made at the local transit camp.
Finally an incident should be mentioned which the survivors from Chrzanow may
not know of. There are Jews from Chrzanow who still believe that Schindler was
a friend of the Jews. After the police, led by their commander Schindler, had
completed the final annihilation of Chrzanow Jews, they had themselves
photographed at the Chrzanow market place, their faces beaming with pleasure.
This group photo graph, with Schindler at the center, was seen in 1944 at a
work camp by a Jewish girl from Chrzanow named Fela Scharf. It was in the hands
of a German policeman from Berlin who had been present during this incident.
The picture is captioned, "Chrzanow is finally Judenrein".
Mgr. Yakov Silfen
A Word About the Council of Elders
When we first saw the Nazi bandits on the streets of Chrzanow, our hearts were
filled with indescribable and infinite sorrow. We instinctively sensed that the
most dreadful period in our recent history was coming, a period of total
annihilation of Jewish society.
THE JUDENRAT AND THE GERMAN AUTHORITIES
Where could we escape, where could we lay our weary bodies and our tortured
Everyone sought an answer to this question. Jews from cities and towns burrowed
into caves, holes, and bunkers, seeking protection against the barbaric enemy.
Our blood froze in our veins when we heard the tragic news arriving from all
sides. In Mielec Jews were being burned, in Trzebinia they were being shot,
around us the brutal terror of animal sadism reigned. In this situation the
words of the Polish poet Mickiewicz's
came to life: "Darkness and silence everywhere; What will be?, what will
The concept of a body of Jewish representatives was alien to the Jewish masses.
Thus it was with a certain astonishment that the Jews heard the news that a
Jewish committee would be established to represent Jewish concerns in dealings
with the German authorities.
Jews who were influenced by the tragic news about the barbaric oppression of
the Jews in Germany couldn't comprehend the fact that an institution had been
called into being to serve the interests of the Jewish masses. We must
acknowledge that the masses always have clear instincts, and sense the approach
of great events.
The first Jewish committee, whose official name later resounded as
"Aeltestenrat der Judische Kultursgemeinde," consisted of the
following individuals: chairman Yosef Umlauf; vice chairmen, Shmuel Kluger and
David Wachsberg (Bishte); Levy Krauskopf, and Menachem Unger. After the
committee had been in existence for a few weeks, Zelig Grajower, Dr. Riter, and
Dr. Werner were coopted as well.
The work of the first committee was quite chaotic during the first weeks. The
functions of the various members had not yet been defined, and the office
wasn't organized. The only activities were the requisitioning of furniture by
Wachsbeirg (Bishte) and Fasek Weber, and the assignment of Jews to forced labor
in the framework of the German contingent.
The first positive step taken by the committee was the organization of a
popular kitchen, which saved a large number of the poorest members of the
population from certain starvation.
Among all the members of the Judenrat only two, Fasek Weber and Bishte
Wachsberg, showed off their ugly "glory." These were people with no
sense of Jewish pride, without any communal responsibility. Only our tragic
fate and the cursed new realities enabled them to assume power over Jewish
society. The rest of the members were people of good will and decent intentions
regarding the vital interests of the Jewish masses. However, they had no
significant influence on the actions of the Judenrat.
The arrival in December 1939 of Chaim Merin was a major event in the history of
the Chrzanow Judenrat. Chaim Merin presented himself as a delegate of the new
director of the Silesia Judenrat, his brother Moniek Merin, whom Dreher, the
chief of the Jewish department of the Gestapo, had assigned to set up a central
Judenrat in East Silesia.
Chaim Merin conducted long presentations at the home of Zelig Grajower, in
which he described the significance of this new institution, claiming that it
would defend the interests of the Jews of Silesia. Merin emphasized in no
uncertain terms the necessity of coordinating the work of all of the communal
bodies under the direction of Moniek Merin, whose official title was
"Director of the Councils of Elders of the Jewish Religious Communities in
East Silesia." Moniek Merin was to be the official representative of all
the Judenrats in Silesia, and all the chairmen of the Judenrats were to fulfill
obediently the commands and regulations he issued.
Merin's entire presentation aroused considerable dissatisfaction among the
members of the Judenrat. Fasek Weber and David Wachsberg, for whom Merin's
involvement was inconvenient, tried to prevent the reorganization of the
Judenrat, and its subordination to the central Judenrat in Sosnowiec. Chaim
Merin, meanwhile, referred to his own Zionist activism and his socially
responsible, nationalistic approach to every problem. Meanwhile, he insisted
that in reorganizing the Judenrat he would rely on the support of serious,
respected people with a record of fruitful social work on behalf of the Jews of
Chrzanow. Nevertheless Merin's plans did not touch a sympathetic chord among
the members of the Judenrat.
However, after long negotiations, explanations, and threats, Chaim Merin
managed to reorganize the Judenrat entirely and to bring in new, competent, and
honest people. Among them were well-known Zionist activists such as Betsalel
Cuker, Moyshe Nagoshiner, Mendl Nussbaum, Kalmen Teichler, and Shmuel Yosef
Weiss. After the redistribution of tasks, the constitution of the Judenrat was
Yosef Umlauf-chairman (a nominal position); Betsalel Cuker-chairman (with
actual control); Moyshe Nagoshiner-first vice-chairman and director of the
finance department; Kalmen Teichler-second vice-chairman and director of social
assistance; Zelig Grajower- director of the winter action and aid to children;
Shmuel Kluger-director of the housing department; Mendl Nussbaum- director of
supplies and trade; Yoysef Shonhertz-the health bureau; Shmuel Weiss-director
of the social institutions of the Judenrat; David Wachsberg-the labor bureau;
Dr. Werner-office manager; and Fasek Weber-police liaison.
With this setup, the Judenrat organized a new office and a complete staff of
employees. The network of social institutions, of unquestioned importance for
the population of Chrzanow, was extended. They included the following:
- The free kitchen.
Directed by Mrs. Korngold, the kitchen helped considerably to ease the hunger
of the Jewish masses in Chrzanow. The kitchen provided 1,000 lunches every day.
The citizens' kitchen was later set up by the Judenrat, under the direction of
Betsalel Cuker. This kitchen served middle class persons who had been
impoverished in the last years, and who were ashamed to ask for charity. The
lunches served in the citizens' kitchen were tasty and inexpensive, but the
small fee permitted those who frequented it to believe that they weren't
"eating for free."
- The clinic.
The difficult material situation and the spread of malnutrition among the
Jewish masses encouraged various diseases. Therefore an institution to
distribute free medical assistance to the people was urgently needed. The
clinic was directed by a well-known doctor-first Dr. Riter, and later, Dr.
Gutentag. The doctor was assisted by two paramedics and one nurse.
- The children's home.
This institution was created by the division of social assistance. Its
activities sent wide ripples among the Jewish population.
- The health bureau
ran a laundry for the poorer population.
- The children's and youth club.
As a result of the Nazi occupation, it became impossible for the young people
to continue their studies after September 1939. The parents, who had to
struggle for their very lives, simply could not devote any attention to their
children's education. The children's club, directed by experienced teachers,
filled the void created by the cataclysm.
Under the direction of Bruche Wasserberger and Mrs. Weiss, the children spent
nearly the entire day irk a warm, pleasant atmosphere. In addition to the youth
club, the division for social assistance organized summer camps for the older
children. These camps were set up at the field belonging to Berl Neufeld, at
No. 3 Fischer Street.
- Trades courses.
The trade and retraining schools for the older youth played an important role.
These courses were led by professionals, and were well attended. The following
courses were exceptionally well taught: locksmithing and electronics, under the
direction of Engineer Fleissig; the beautician's course, directed by Sala Khon;
sewing and tailoring, under the direction of Ruth Weinreich; fashion, under the
direction of Mrs. Norman.
In addition to these practical courses, Hebrew, mathematics and physics were
also required. After these courses were completed, the students received
diplomas at special ceremonies organized by the Judenrat.
The number of social institutions grew constantly. During the last phase of the
liquidation of the Jewish community of Chrzanow, a hospital was set up under
the direction of the pharmacist Silberstein, and a post office under the
direction of Steinitz. There is no question that all these institutions
fulfilled an important and useful role under tragic circumstances, and that
they significantly eased the difficult conditions for the Jewish masses.
Returning to the personnel of the Judenrat, it should be emphasized that the
participation of well-known community activists, under the direction of Cuker,
inspired confidence and trust among the Jews of Chrzanow. Cuker actually
oversaw the evolution of work in several areas. He organized a network of
social institutions, and did his very best to ease the influence of the two low
life scum, Weber and Wachsberg.
Cuker, Nagoshiner, Teichler, Weiss, Shonhertz and others unquestionably had
moral credit with the people of Chrzanow, and they enjoyed general respect
until the Judenrat was burdened with responsibility for the labor details. The
first labor recruitment action was bitterly resented by the Jews of Chrzanow,
because it was carried out by the Judenrat. The central office of Silesian
communities in Sosnowiec promised that all of the local Judenrats would fully
meet the quotas assigned them. From that moment on, the Judenrat was
transformed into an object of hatred and contempt, and all of its subsequent
actions aroused fear and resentment.
Cuker was an honest man, concerned for social well-being, and naturally
intelligent. A superficial evaluation of his activities could lead to the
conclusion that he was strict, cold, and hard as stone. But this conclusion was
false, for Cuker possessed a warm heart. He believed in the Jewish nation and
desired its well-being. Pained by the suffering of the Jews, he expressed his
pain more and more often. Moniek Merin immediately sensed that Cuker wasn't his
man, that he was too conscientious, too responsible. That was why he stopped
confiding in Cuker.
In light of these facts it is clear that all of the subsequent labor
recruitment actions and resettlements were organized and carried out by the
central office in Sosnowiec and its delegates, with the assistance of trusted
officials, who cooperated with the police in Bendzin and Sosnowiec.
Cuker's end was tragic. Together with Nussbaum and Teichler, he was sent to
Auschwitz by the Chrzanow police. A short time later came the news that all
three had died of heart failure. After Cuker's arrest, the books were checked
by the Gestapo men Kranuy and Freitag. This audit was undertaken because of
several anonymous letters, in which the Judenrat was accused of taking money in
return for apartments, and also of slighting those resettled from Silesia.
Although the audit revealed no irregularities, Kranuy is said to have explained
to Merin that according to the German authorities, Cuker had displayed too much
nerve and independence. Teichler was freed and then immediately rearrested on
the pretext that he had revealed secrets concerning the investigation to his
colleagues and to the central office.
There were rumors at the time that Merin was very interested in getting rid of
Cuker, who had begun to resist the policies of the central office, which was
actually carrying out the liquidation of the Jewish population of Silesia. It
is an incontestable fact that after Cuker and his comrades were arrested, Merin
still had a great deal of influence with the Gestapo. However, he didn't make
the least attempt to intervene on their behalf.
Moyshe Nagoshiner worked closely with Cuker. He was responsible for the finance
department, and for some time was director of the housing commission. Later
Nagoshiner took over the position of Judenrat chairman. After Cuker was
arrested, he moved to the department that supervised Jewish trade and artisan
production. Nagoshiner, a great philanthropist and a warm-hearted person, did
not long survive as chairman of the Judenrat. Thereafter he returned to his
purely economic responsibilities.
After Cuker's arrest, the central office in Sosnowiec sent its directors to
Chrzanow. For two months Yankel Ehrlich was in control in Chrzanow, until local
conditions drove him away. As soon as he took over, the representatives of the
Treuhandsteue and GrundstueckgeselIschat threatened to resettle all the Jews of
Chrzanow, because they were "spreading all sorts of infectious
diseases." This worried Ehrlich greatly. Since he was well connected with
Merin, he managed to get himself reassigned to his previous position in the
finance department in Sosnowiec.
He was followed by Moyshe Lefkowitz, the former chairman of the Judenrat in
Olkusz and Zawiercie. Moyshe Lefkowitz became energetically involved in the
reorganization of the community. But after a few months, he too resigned when
Merin accused him of profiting from the liquidation of goods belonging to those
who were deported.
The last chairman of the Judenrat in Chrzanow was the well-known chairman of
the community councils in Sosnowiec and Bendzin, Wladek Boehm. Apparently Merin
wasn't very comfortable with Boehm's presence at the central office, and sent
him to the difficult Chrzanow assignment in an attempt to get rid of him. In
Chrzanow the Kripo took a few dozen Jewish families every day. Although Boehm
himself was a victim of Merin's machinations, he was altogether subservient to
his boss in Sosnowiec, viewing all local problems from the perspective of the
He grew anxious when he was unable to provide the proper number of women and
men for the labor details. At the same time, however, Boehm did the best he
could to support the Jews in Chrzanow, using his influence to increase the
number of shops and other workplaces. Boehm fully believed that getting Jews
involved in productive labor would enable him to preserve Chrzanow Jewry. His
conviction was strengthened by the visit to Chrzanow of Commissar Dreher, who
showed Boehm a map of the projected ghetto. All of these plans were pure
fantasy. In February 1943 all the Jews of Chrzanow were deported.
Contacts between the Judenrat and the local German officials were carried out
on more than the official level. The Judenrat had close relations with some of
the German officials, thanks to various gifts and bribes. However, the
Judenrat's closest contacts were with the police, headed by Oberleutenant
Schindler. An intelligent German, he understood thoroughly how to profit from
the situation and received a steady income from the Judenrat, along with
numerous gifts from dozens of Jewish families in exchange for taking care of
the most trivial matters. He was false through and through, although he
pretended to be a friend of the Jews. At the last, however, he showed his true
The liaison between the police and the Judenrat during the entire period was
Fasek Weber. After Weber was sent to Auschwitz, the job was taken over by Zelig
Grajower. Fasek Weber exploited his situation in base and brutal ways, growing
rich on Jewish trouble and pain. Zelig Grajower, on the other hand, carried out
his work impartially, helping the Jews in question whenever he could.
The position of local magistrate was occupied by Dr. Kantner, a young Nazi who
utterly detested Jews. As early as 1939 he issued a regulation forbidding Jews
from walking on the main street, Alea Henryka. The Judenrat had no access to
Kantner. His representatives, on the other hand, were older and more
experienced, and they had a better attitude toward Jewish affairs. These were
Inspectors Lutherle and Shorshek. The latter issued many passes for travel to
Cracow, Berlin, and Moravia.
The liaison between the Judenrat and the magistrate, Yosef Shonhertz, displayed
a great deal of concern for the needs of the Jews. In addition to Shonhertz,
Usher Friedman was well acquainted with the magistrate's office and often used
his connections to help the people of Chrzanow.
The Kreisbauamt, led by the famous Kleinecke, was extremely important, and its
importance grew daily, because it organized its own work camps in Libiaz,
Bobrek, and Babice, all close to Chrzanow. Those sent to these work camps
avoided the dangerous labor details, whose camps were located in Lower Silesia
and central Germany. People were allowed to come home from Kleinecke's camps
once a week, and sometimes more often. The Judenrat managed to establish close
ties to Kleinecke and his staff, with Nagoshiner, who displayed deep
understanding and empathy in dealing with the problems of the Jews, as liaison.
A significant role among the Nazi institutions was played by the
Grundstueckgesellschaft and the Treuhandstelle. The first of these institutions
was responsible for assigning housing. Its importance grew when Jews were
resettled from one part of the city to another, and during the evacuation of
the so-called Jewish quarter. The Judenrat liaison was Shmuel Kluger, a good
and competent person.
The Treuhandstelle, on the other hand, headed by the great anti-Semite Gupert,
confiscated furniture and other valuable items found in Jewish houses. The
tragic situation was somewhat ameliorated by Kalmen Teichler, an Orthodox Jew
who managed to establish contacts with this bureau, and who won Gupert's favor.
Teichler did a great deal to help Jews, sitting at the Treuhandstelle for days
on end, stubbornly fighting like a lion in defense of Jewish possessions.
In these lines, I have provided a brief account of the activities and structure
of the Judenrat. My goal was not to analyze the institution in depth. I have
only mentioned important facts and certain individuals, who unquestionably
operated with good will, and who more than once fell unwilling victim to the
forces of barbarism.
Reb Moyshe Bochner
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