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Ciechanow in the Years of the German Extermination of the Jews

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Binyamin Appel

In the Years of the German Extermination of the Jews

The Polish Preparation for the War

Already in the first months of 1939 we started to feel that something evil was awaiting us. We knew what Hitlerism signified for the Jewish people. We felt a dark cloud descending upon us

The Polish state was preparing for war. In Ciechanow, committees were formed to protect its residents during air raids. The population was taught how to extinguish fires when the enemy bombs the shtetl. Commanders were appointed for every courtyard. Every courtyard was ordered to have a reserve of sand and water to extinguish the fire. The windows had to be pasted with strips of paper.

Jews stock up on food. The situation is tense. People stop thinking about a livelihood. Stores are abandoned. One thing is on everyone's mind: What will happen to us Jews when war will start. The terrible suspense sweeps before our eyes; everyone runs to hear news on the radio.

Every day new politicians arose, predicting when war would start and what its nature would be. There was only one thing that we did not foresee -- that in our century there would be found, in cultured Germany, beasts in the form of human beings who would be insatiable in their thirst for Jewish blood…

On August 25 the conscription order was issued. Men up to the age of 40 must enlist in the army. One day before the outbreak of war a commission went from house to house in Ciechanow to check if proper preparations had been made to extinguish fires. The commission also informed everyone that the following day -- Friday -- there will be a general drill: our planes will fly and drop incendiary bombs throughout the city and the population must be ready to put out the fires. Everyone prepared for the “General Drill.” Some Jews were given white armbands and were appointed as commanders.

That sorrowful Friday, September 1, 1939 arrived. In the morning the German planes appeared and shot down with machine ammunition. Everyone went out to see, and Poles declared that there's no reason to fear. "They are ours.” Soon, though, we found out the bitter truth that war had started.

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In the afternoon several planes were already spotted and bombs started to fall on our shtetl. That same Friday Mlawa was also bombed and nearly half the city was burnt. People started to run in all directions.

Shabbat morning refugees started to arrive from Mlawa, some in wagons and some on foot. Many remained on the road. We sent wagons to bring them to Ciechanow. We tried to greet the Mlawa Jews and housed them temporarily. It didn't last long though. A few hours later we Ciechanowers also became refugees.

The wealthier ones were the first to run away in wagons. The representatives of the Polish government who were supposed to protect us also ran away. The panic in the shtetl was great and no one knew where to run. From hour to hour the shooting became closer. In every house everything was packed in readiness to leave, but the question remained -- where to?

The mood was very oppressive. From somewhere a rumor spread that when the Germans conquer a city they gather all those men who are capable of fighting, and they are shot. My family forced me to run away. Not having any other choice, I started off on foot in the direction of Warsaw.

On the main road leading to Warsaw I saw in front of me the whole misery of war. The roads were full of people: Jews, Christians, young and old, everyone running. The German planes fly quite low and shoot at the civilian population. People fell the way stalks of wheat fall in a field beneath the scythe. The roads wee covered with thousands of shot bodies.


The Germans in the City -- The First Jewish Victims

Monday, September 4, the Germans captured Ciechanow. The following Jews perished when the shtetl was captured: Yenkl Renboim was shot. Shimon Garfinkl, a bookseller, was returning from davening when a bullet shot him; Pesakh Lipsky's son was shot right at home.

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We soon found out about the khurban that the Germans brought upon Jews in other places: Mlawa was half-burnt; from Proshnitz all Jews were sent out. From Poltusk also the Jews were sent out and half were shot on the way.

Two days after the capture of Ciechanow the German military called all the Jews to the shul. A German officer spoke to the Jews to voluntarily leave Ciechanow. He promised them assistance if they would leave, and assured that it would be better for us if we leave.

A brief consultation took place amongst the most prominent Jews of the shtetl and the word was not to leave. One of the assembled called out: “We were born here and here we will get lost.” The German representative replied: “If you choose to remain here, know that you have no rights. You will have to carry out all commands that we issue, and you come under the Nuremberg Laws.”

The crowd dispersed and the cruel life under German rule started. Everyone had great fear. The German acts of vandalism started. They spread the Sefer Torahs out on the sidewalks; the shul and Bais Hamedresh in which generations of Jews had sent their prayers to the Almighty the Germans converted into a factory for the repair of automobiles, and the seizure of Jews for forced labor started.

Jews are seized for forced labor in the marketplace
Jews are seized for forced labor in the marketplace

Picture Index

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The work wouldn't have been so hard, but in addition to the work they beat us, and they sought the most difficult work with which to torture the Jews.

Every morning the Germans ran amongst the Jewish houses and grabbed Jews for forced labor. People started to hide. In every house a hideout was made in the loft. Woe to those Jews who were dragged out of their hiding places. They were beaten and tortured without pity.

At the same time we lived in great fear because we heard that all the Jews of the surrounding shtetlech had been sent away: Nashelsek Drabnin, Ratszeans, Zuramin, Ripin, Shierptz. The expelled Jews were sent in the direction of Warsaw. They weren't allowed to take any of their belongings. Every day we were ready to become wanderers, but the expulsion was spared for us for the time being.

Jewish refugees who had been expelled, and had

Jews who are laboring under the supervision of the Germans
Jews who are laboring under the supervision of the Germans

Picture Index

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run away on the road. We took those Jews into our crowded homes.

The Germans started to take over in our shtetl. A mayor and many police came and they established order. First they established a Judenrat with Ben-Tzion Ehrlikh at its head. Every resident had to register both with the Judenrat and with the German police, and everyone received a card with the mark: “Yude.” They stopped seizing people for forced labor.

A command was given that every Jew from the age of 15 on must present himself each morning in the marketplace for work. It was woe to anyone who didn't appear. The Germans already had prepared lists of the Jews who were then in the shtetl. From the marketplace groups of Jews were sent off to labor.

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