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[Columns 91-92]

Jewish Hrubieszow, 1939–1945

by Nachmen Blumental (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Yael Chaver

We do not know exactly how many Jews were living in Hrubieszow at the beginning of World War Two. Therefore, we do not know exactly how many Jews were pulled into the maelstrom of the war's events, how many of them were murdered, and how many of them were able to save themselves.

We know that the Jewish population of Hrubieszow was as follows:

1897 – 5,341 Jews, comprising 54.4% of the total population (9,813).
1921 – 5,679 Jews, comprising 59.2% of the total population (9,598).[1]
1931 – 7,000 Jews, comprising 52.4% of the total population (13,359).[2]

As for the entire county of Hrubieszow, together with the town, we have the following numbers:

1897 – 14,754 Jews, of a total population of 100,094; i.e., 14.7%.
1921 – 13,967 Jews, of a total population of 103,841; i.e., 13.4%.
1931 – 15,785 Jews, of a total population of 130,000; i.e., 12.14%.[3][4]

 

What the Numbers Teach Us

First, as far as the town is concerned, we see that the absolute number of Jews continued to increase, but compared to the increase in the non–Jewish population, the number of Jews in the last decade (1921–1931) declined, relatively speaking. And there is no reason to assume that there was any change in this process during the eight years before the war's outbreak (1931–1939).

This is especially true, as this fact is characteristic of all Poland. The urban population continued to grow, but not all national groups in the cities increased their share equally. The Poles were the winners in urbanization. Their numbers increased by 20%, ten times larger than the numbers of the Jews.

Analyzing the results of the two censuses in Poland in 1921 and 1931, Yankev Leshchinsky writes:

“The rise of the Polish elements is due to three reasons: natural increase, which was higher among Poles than among Jews; the move of peasants from village to town (which also occurred among Jews, but to a much smaller degree); and the fact that villages became part of towns.”[5]

All these factors also affected Hrubieszow. According to the census of 1921, the natural increase among Jews was 3.4% of the natural increase in the population of the Hrubieszow district, although Jews comprised 13.4% of the total population. In other words, the rate of increase among Jews was one–fourth of that among non–Jews.[6] This fact partially explains the reason for the relative decline of Jews in the general population. Obviously, emigration to other countries, and the like reasons, were also significant.

In Hrubieszow county in particular (see Wasiutyński, p. 16), the number of Jews declined, in both absolute numbers and percentages, during 1897–1921, compared with other districts of Lublin province. As to the composition of the non–Jewish population in the vicinity of Hrubieszow, it should be emphasized that there was a larger concentration of Ukrainians. According to the last census of 1931, there were 63,000 Roman Catholics (Poles), alongside about 50,000 Russian Orthodox followers (Ukrainians), and a small number of Greek Catholics (Uniates, mostly Ukrainians); and others in extremely small numbers.[7] This fact was very influential during the German occupation, and is therefore worth emphasizing.

Up to the outbreak of the war, the Jewish population of Hrubieszow rose – according to a Jewish source – to about 7,500; according to our well–founded assumptions, the total population of the town was at least 15,000.

These were the numbers of Jews and non–Jews at the beginning of the war.

During war, as usual at such times, the population – especially of Jews – undergoes fluctuations. Some Jews from the provinces seek protection in the city; refugees from areas in the west arrive; and vice versa: Jews from the town seek refuge in the villages, or flee eastward, across the Bug.[8]

Later, besides the refugees who came voluntarily, exiled Jews also arrived, sent by the occupying power. These amounted to 900 or 1,000 Jews.[9]

In other words, the number of Jews in the town increased further.

On the other hand, when the Central Committee of Polish Jews in Warsaw implemented registration of all Jews who lived in Poland on June 15, 1945, no more than 176 Jews were found in Hrubieszow…

Obviously, this number can be augmented by Jews who did not register with the local Jewish Committee, including those who survived the war by using so–called Aryan documents. But such Jews certainly did not exceed a few dozen.

However, it must be taken into account that some of those 176 Jews had not lived in Hrubieszow previously.

[Columns 93-94]

In any case, we are talking about small numbers, perhaps no more than dozens. Even a comparison of the numbers for 1931 (or 1939) with the numbers for 1945 illuminates the scope of our national catastrophe. The following chapters will describe how a community of seven or eight thousand Jews shriveled to a meager two hundred souls.

 

The Transition

The war broke out on September 1, 1939: Germany attacked Poland. Hrubieszow was bombarded on the seventh day of the war, and the first fatalities occurred. On the fourteenth day, Rosh Ha–Shana, the Germans took the town.

During this time, a stream of refugees passed through the town, mostly Jews, young people who were fleeing from the west (Warsaw) across the Bug [River]. They believed that a new Polish army would be formed there, to liberate the portion of Poland that was occupied by the German forces. Some of the refugees remained in town, and suffered the same bitter destiny as the Jews of Hrubieszow.

During the first few days of the German occupation, the Jewish population did not suffer too badly. The soldiers plundered, and removed anything they could from the warehouses. Sometimes they were “noble” and paid with Czech krone which had long since been removed from circulation… No one dared to refuse the money. In addition, there were some rapes of young girls, although the Third Reich forbade it for fear of “racial disgrace.”[10]

But Jews consoled themselves: things would calm down with the arrival of a civilian administration, and order is established.

Luckily, the situation did not last long this time. As the demarcation lines between Germany and the U.S.S.R. had not yet been fixed (the question was whether the boundary of this section would be the Wieprz River or the Bug River), the Germans withdrew on the eve of Yom Kippur, and the town was occupied by a handful of demoralized Polish soldiers who were roaming loose in the area, robbing Jews and beating them up.

In the evening of Yom Kippur (September 23, 1939), after a short scuffle with the Poles, the town was occupied by the Red Army. The unit stayed in town for a total of eleven days, and withdrew across the Bug (about five km from Hrubieszow) on October 3. This was because during this time (on September 28, 1939) a Soviet–German committee “finally” set the borders between the Soviet and German “areas of interest,” as the occupied parts of Polish territory were known. The Bug River separated these territories from the great powers of the U.S.S.R. and Germany, for a scanty two years.

Some young people who were known in town to have pro–Soviet sympathies, as well as those who served in the Red Militia and worked with the temporary Soviet administration, left with the retreating Soviet army. They were joined by people who had become convinced – during the days of the first German occupation – of what could be expected of the Germans. Sadly, they numbered only a few.

The next day, October 4, 1939, the Germans occupied Hrubieszow for the second time.

However, local Jews as well as Jews from elsewhere continued to sneak across the border. This was made possible by the proximity of the border and the good relations with the peasants who lived on either side of the river. Of course, there were hazards. The official joint Soviet–German committee that transferred citizens from one country to the other during December 1939–Febrary 1940 was interested in moving Ukrainians from the German area of interest to the U.S.S.R., and Germans and Volksdeutsche in the opposite direction.[11] This enabled some Jews to benefit. There were also cases of Jews who returned from Soviet territory. However, only a very small number of Jews from Hrubieszow returned. The number of Jews who crossed the border illegally to the U.S.S.R. was greater.

Unfortunately, the relatively good economic conditions that lasted quite a while after the first massacre, and the hope that a certain order would prevail, prevented many Jews from leaving. The overwhelming majority of the Jews of Hrubieszow stayed “at home.”

There were also cases when Jews attempting to cross the border were forcibly returned. They never tried again, especially as Hell had not yet broken loose.

 

The Second German Period

The German Wehrmacht now continued its previous work with greater enthusiasm. First, they started making inspections, mainly of Jews: they were looking for weapons, but meanwhile took everything they found, that was being “concealed from the German authorities.” There were beatings as well. The Jews were ordered to keep their warehouses open, even on Shabbes, and were warned that the prices should be kept at prewar levels, even though all prices had risen due to the war and the flow of new merchandise had stopped. Payment had to be in German marks, at the rate of one mark to two złoty! In this way, the Jewish merchants were forced to sell their goods for low prices.

There were also items that the Wehrmacht ordered the Jews to supply to the military without payment – a type of contribution. The military also permitted Jews to be snatched up for various jobs, according to the requirements of different German offices.

The Polish police, which had scattered when the Germans first arrived, now resumed its pre–war functions, wearing the old dark–blue uniforms (which inspired their the new name “blue police”) to differentiate them from the German Police as well as the newly created Ukrainian Police, who were uniformed in black (reflected in their new name “the black ones”). Ukrainian police were organized even in locations with a small percentage of Ukrainians.

In this way, various arms of the ruling power were created; rivalries among them made the lives of citizens – especially Jews – more difficult.

This transitional time also saw the Fűhrer's decree of October 12, 1939 (which went into effect on October 26, 1939), creating the General Government (G.G.) in part of occupied Poland.[12] The Governor General was Hans Frank, with a command center in Krakow. The area of the General Government was divided into four districts: Krakow, Radom, Lublin, and Warsaw (Hrubieszow was in the Lublin district). Authority was transferred to civilian authorities.

[Columns 95-96]

The Beginning

The German authorities designated Hrubieszow as the seat of one of the ten main district commands of Lublin district. The district chief was a German, Dr. Behrend, later replaced by Busse. Hrubieszow district was larger than the previous district, as a number of settlements were added that had previously belonged to other districts (which the Germans dissolved). Some settlements were also added from the Rava–Ruska (Bełżec) and Sokol districts (Belz), previously part of Łwow province.

According to the German statistics, the new district numbered about 186,000 residents. Of these, 91,000 were Ukrainian, 83,000 were Poles, 11,000 were Jews, and 583 were Germans. This enabled the Germans to consider the town “one of their own.” They opened a German school for the German children, with a teacher from Germany.[13]

And, as they did everywhere in the occupied Polish territories, here, too, the Germans made efforts to favor the Ukrainians.[14] They helped them to establish cooperatives, open schools with Ukrainian as the language of instruction, organize a Ukrainian militia with the intention of pitting them against the Poles, and incite both nations simultaneously against the Jews.

The numbers the same German author presents in the second edition of his book (1942) are very interesting, and characteristic of the Nazi German way of thinking.[15] The total population now numbers “around” 210,000. Of these, 106,000 are Poles; 94,000 are Ukrainians; and Jews, on the other hand, are only 11,000 – the same number as two years earlier (pp. 320–321). We can understand the reason for the increase in the number of the non–Jewish population: the borders of the county have been expanded, there has been natural increase, and so on, but how is it that the number of Jews remains at the same fixed point? By this statement alone, the Hitlerite author testifies that something is wrong about these Jews. After all, the Nazi German propagandist writers constantly complained about the high percentage of Jews in Poland, and their high rate of natural increase, especially in the eastern parts of the country!

As a matter of fact, there were actually even less Jews in the areas around Hrubieszow; but the writer does not admit it, because he would have had to explain where the Jews had gone. And the head of the Public Education and Propaganda section of the General Government, Dr. Du Prel, wanted to avoid giving the answer.

Hrubieszow was one of the border towns in which the Germans thought they could solve the Jewish problem immediately upon occupation, in a simple, radical fashion, i.e., by driving the Jews to the eastern border and forcing them to go over to the Soviets – without reaching an agreement with the Soviet Union.

They began by doing this at the banks of the San (Nisko, Przemyśl, and so on), and later at the banks of the other border river, the Bug (Chelm, Hrubieszow, and others). At first, the Germans carried out a type of propaganda among the Jews, encouraging them to leave their country “voluntarily” and cross the border on their own. They presented the operation as a type of legal process, and announced that, for a fee, it was possible to receive official permission to cross the border.

On another occasion, they “opened” the border for 24 hours, without the agreement of the other side, and allowed anyone interested to cross freely to “the other side.” Those Jews who took this seriously and reported at the border with the German permit were robbed by the Germans, and left on their own. If they were lucky, they were able to evade the Soviet border patrol. If not, they were forced to return, and then fell into the hands of the German murderers who had “allowed” them to cross the border. Obviously, this was not without loss of life. However, in the last analysis, these were “small” issues, until December 1, 1939.

 

The March

That day, the Judenrat ordered, in the name of the German authorities, all Jews aged 15–60 to report the next day, Shabbes morning (all the disasters usually happened on Shabbes or another free day) between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., at “Wygon.”[16]

A selection was then carried out. Those under 15 and over 60 were sent home. Qualified workers needed by German enterprises were also freed, and the German mayor freed his workers. The German policemen pulled out those who could make excuses, or buy their freedom. About four hundred Jews were freed in this manner, leaving about 1,500. After all their possessions were taken, they were arranged in rows and driven out of the town. On their way, they met Jews from Chelm, who had been expelled from their home town the day before, and were being driven towards Hrubieszow. They were taken by roundabout ways, through the villages of Mieniany, Tsichovaze, and Dolhobyczów.[17] Anyone who was too weak to walk, or stopped to rest for a moment, was shot on the spot. Some were able to escape and hide.

In Dolhobyczów, the group was divided into two sections. One group of 500 Jews was driven toward Sokol, where they were forced to cross the bridge, or go directly through the water to the Soviet side. Many died because of the forced march across the bridge, or the cold water. Yet about 300 did cross the border. They were pushed back by the Soviet border guards, as they had crossed illegally.

The other group of about 400 men was driven towards Belz, where they arrived on Monday, December 4. A small group of these managed to cross the border and stay there; the rest remained on the German side.

Altogether, up to 1500 Jews of Hrubieszow and Chelm were murdered during the “death march.” (The term began to be used at that early phase for events such as the death march of Jewish prisoners of war from Lublin to Biała–Podlaska.)

[Columns 97-98]

Sefer Ha–Zeva'ot (Jerusalem, 1945, pp. 112–115) includes the names of 80 Jews of Hrubieszow who died during the march, provided by a witness. The witness, who arrived in then–Palestine in 1940, remembered nothing more.

The 1941 publication by the Polish Government–in–Exile in London (The German New Order in Poland, p. 221) reports that 83 Jews were shot between Hrubieszow and Chelm, because they could not run fast enough to the Soviet border.

Even Polish government circles of the time were interested in writing the truth about the horrible actions of the Germans, in order to reduce the number of Jews killed; they apparently considered the information coming from Poland to be exaggerated–at the beginning, normal human imagination could not accept the dreadful truth.

Those returning from the border were abandoned by the Germans (some favor!). Ragged and tattered after four days of wandering through swamps and mud patches, starved and exhausted, with no money or possessions, they were on the roads, helpless. Luckily, peasants from the villages in the area helped them; they enlisted a few Catholic priests to help. The Jews were given food and allowed to rest anywhere in the warm houses, even in the company of the horse and cart. Thanks to the help of these peasants, the Jews returned home.

Up to that point, German propaganda had not yet tamped down the human feelings of the Christians toward the Jews. Two years later, during the liquidation of the Jews in this region, the situation was very different. By then, a Jew had trouble getting help from a peasant, especially as peasants assisting Jews were threatened with death.

And who knows how that “method” of solving the Jewish problem would have ended up, were it not for fear of diplomatic complications, which the Germans still had at that time.

On December 5, 1939, General Keitel, Chief of the Armed Forces High Command, phoned the German Foreign Ministry, complaining that the recent arbitrary driving of Jews over to the Soviet side “is apparently not as innocent and delicate as we had expected” (! – N. B.) The expelled Jews were being pushed back by the Russians, and the Russian commanders were forcing the German border guards to allow the Jews back in; the German High Command could do nothing about it (! – N.B.) as the work was carried out by the police, who were not under its command. Keitel therefore requests the Foreign Ministry to deal with it.

The Foreign Ministry, which was then striving to maintain good relations with the U.S.S.R., apparently made efforts: driving the Jews to the “green” border,[18] to the U.S.S.R., ceased.[19] The Ministry was not able to influence the Soviet authorities to allow the Jews to enter (we have no documents regarding this), but it did sway the German authorities (Heinrich Himmler, the SS and Police Commander, and General Governor Hans Frank) to stop the operation immediately. And that is what happened!

The Germans now invented a different method of killing the Jews. This was more radical, and free of diplomatic complexities. But two years elapsed before the idea ripened and the technical means to implement it were ready; two years under the German boot.

However, in hindsight, these two years seemed calm and “happy.”

 

The Judenrat[20]

As was the case throughout the General Government, a Judenrat was created in Hrubieszow by demand of the Germans. The Judenrat was charged with carrying out each German order to completion, even handing over their own sisters and brothers for murder. On the other hand, it was also responsible for its behavior and for the actions of all the Jews under its rule – each one individually and all together. The role of the Judenrat was therefore problematic. At the same time, the Germans misled the Judenrat by creating an illusion of autonomy and self–government of Jews ruling Jews.

In order to sustain this illusion while granting the Judenrat the proper authority, the Germans chose as Judenrat members precisely the prominent and popular leaders of the community. They did so, knowing that in any case the Judenrat, under the threat of German orders, demands, and extortion, would not dare to oppose the “new order.”

The previous leader of the community, Shmuel Brand, was appointed to chair the Judenrat. He was acknowledged by a large portion of the community. Other members of the Judenrat were Yoel Rabinovich, deputy chairman; Shmuel Zayd, former chairman of the Mutual Aid Fund; Fishl Zilbershteyn, Moyshe Shtecher, Azriel Finkelshteyn, Yukl Brand, Hersh Zilber, Ayzik Finger, Getsl Valdman, Yisro'el Shpiler, and Yechezkel Druker. The German directive required each community of up to 10,000 Jews to have a 12–member Judenrat.

The extent to which the Jews were not aware of the situation and did not understand the role of the Judenrat in the German regime is clear from the question and answer published in the Gazeta Zydowska, the only Jewish newspaper in the General Government (in Polish, based in Krakow), of February 2, 1941. The question comes from Hrubieszow, from someone who wants to know whether the Judenrat has the right to elect one of its members as chairman, and whether the decision should be by majority vote! The newspaper publishes a response (mentioning prewar considerations), but is careful enough to note that it doesn't know whether the authorities have the same understanding as the newspaper's editorial board!

Both questioner and respondent forget that during the regime of Hitler there is no space for parliamentary voting, free elections, and the like, especially where Jews are concerned. Besides, the chairman was appointed by the authorities and had their trust. Otherwise, he would be disregarded, even if the published order mentioned elections and the like.

The principle of leadership dominated the Judenrat as well; the rest was only decoration, meant to mislead the Jews–just as in the Third Reich they would have had the official right to have their own representatives.

In order to satisfy the demands of the Germans, and organize the work somehow,

[Columns 99-100]

the Judenrat set up different committees, such as the Labor Office, which was tasked with placing Jews in assignments outside the Ghetto, at the request of the authorities. This office was also responsible for ensuring that the Ghetto Jews did “useful” work (later limited to people aged 14–55; in any case, the others had no right at all…to life).

A second important committee was the Sanitation Office. After all, the Germans claimed that Jews carried microbes and infected the air of the “Aryans.” Therefore, care should be taken to prevent epidemics among them; that would doom the ghetto to destruction. The office included a special “sanitation worker” who supervised cleanliness, carried out disinfections, and the like.

The Finance Office was in charge of ensuring that the Judenrat always had sufficient funds to pay the contributions levied upon the Jews as presents in order to soften the hearts of those in charge, who would happily take them and promise concessions and cancellation of various threats; they did not always keep their word.

The Judenrat always paid on time. They needed to supply special sums for the Ukrainian cooperative, the German casino, and so forth.

It had become routine, in the occupied Polish territory, for the Judenrat to furnish the German offices with all their needs. It had to supply furniture, dishes, linens, and everything else. Everything had to be of the best quality; otherwise, they would be punished by having to double the contributions.

The Judenrat was faced with such demands daily, because the appetite of the rulers, who were changed very often, increased from one day to the next.

A Social Assistance Office, in which the Germans were barely interested, actually helped quite a few Jews, by handing out free midday meals, clothing, medicine, and so on. The Judenrat had to have an executive branch in order to carry out these missions (obtain contributions, set forced labor tasks, keep “order” in the “autonomous” ghetto). This role was given to the Jewish Police Service, which became infamous during that period.

The Jewish “militia” (the O. D., known by the acronym “Odeh”), organized in March 1941, had a “uniform.” In addition to the usual armband –a white band on the right arm, with a blue Star of David, which all Jews over 6 years old in the General Government were obliged to wear–they also wore a yellow armband with the initials O. D., as well as a white metal lapel insignia bearing a Star of David, a high–crowned cap with a Star of David, and… a whip.[21]

As it did everywhere, the Hrubieszow Odeh took pains to appear “military”: its members wore high boots, a belted jacket, and so on.

Separate from the Judenrat, but under its control, as an arm of the community, was TOZ – the Jewish welfare society.[22] It was active throughout the General Government (with its center in Krakow). Its first social project was the opening of the Jewish Orphanage and Hospital. The death march had orphaned many children, and many of those who returned needed hospital care. The illegal border crossings in the winter months of 1941 and the hours spent lying in the fields in the bitter cold had caused frostbite. The main victims were the refugees who came from elsewhere, who now needed to be cared for by strangers or in the hospital. People who had survived a German labor camp also started to arrive. They were exhausted, beaten, made invalids for life. The hospital that TOZ maintained could not answer their needs; it contained only 36 beds, 12 of which for were the chronically ill.

The hospital was opened on September 10, 1940, a few weeks after the young men were sent to the labor camps. Many of them died in the hospital, or on the long journey from the camp to the hospital, which entailed travelling dozens of kilometers on an ox cart in the bitterest cold. TOZ operated regularly beginning in March 1940.[23]

 

The Problem of Work

After “German order” was established in the Polish areas, and once the general administration as well as a special regime for the Jews, in the form of the Judenrat, were set up, arbitrary acts of oppression stopped, and were replaced by “legal” orders, which were gradually oriented towards murdering the Jews. However, in the meantime the Jews were happy, believing that things would become normal: the establishment of an administration, rules, and ordinances, though hard to bear, would provide a degree of protection for the Jewish population.

In this regard, German propaganda gave assurances that pogroms were impossible in the German area, and that the Jewish problem would be solved by laws and legal means.

The Jews did not imagine that laws could be worse than lawlessness.

In the meantime, the Jews began to be “educated” (in German terminology). On October 26, 1939, the General Government issued an order regarding forced labor for Jews. The chief of the SS and police commander announced practical instructions concerning the order. At the same time, they emphasized that the police would be in charge of the labor issue.

The order as well as the German propaganda clearly emphasized that the goal was to educate Jews towards working and teach them a useful trade. Instead of snatching Jews off the street, the Judenrat now had to supply specific numbers of workers. It is also worth mentioning that according to the German regulations, the Jews needed to report with their own tools.

This was no longer about minor tasks. The occupying forces made grandiose plans to build roads, bridges, canals, and projects to control rivers. A report of 1940 stated that about 3,000 engineers from Germany had arrived in the General Government, along with overseers and officials from about 25 German companies, to implement the work. The Germans hired Polish helpers, but the Jews did the manual labor, as required by “law.” Incidentally, the numbers in du Prel's report of 1942 on the work done, and on future plans, refer to German and Polish workers, without a word on the Jewish workers who were also involved!

As the work mostly took place in locations outside the town, temporary barracks for the Jewish workers were set up at the work sites. The Jews were brought under guard to these camps, which consisted of several wooden barracks. They worked under guard,

[Columns 101-102]

and were forced to stay in the barracks after work. The “advantage” of the labor camps, compared with later conditions, was that the workers were exchanged for new ones after several months, as the previous workers were no longer fit for any work… In any case, people who were in those first camps (1940) nonetheless returned to the home that still existed.

The labor camps were scattered over dozens of kilometers around Hrubieszow; local as well as other Jews were the workers. They were tasked with building roads to the new German–Soviet border. The work was implemented by the General Government's construction section. The camps stretched over 70 kilometers and housed about 6,000 Jews from Hrubieszow and the vicinity (August–September 1940).

The work was superhuman: sometimes the work site was ten kilometers from the camp, a distance that had to be walked twice a day. The work itself lasted up to 12 hours daily. It was not surprising that the Jews quickly became exhausted, especially as they were not given proper food. Before leaving for work they received a piece of bread; on returning, they were given watery soup. This was meant to satisfy them after a hard day's labor. When the Judenrat did send food or clothing for the people in the camp, these were usually “confiscated” by the camp's administration. Any worker who stopped for a brief rest while working was shot for …laziness.

According to official German reports, by the end of August 1940, 498 bridges were completed throughout the General Government, 1,000 kilometers of roads had been repaired, and work had started on building or repairing 1,600 kilometers of roads.

Conditions were no better in the camps set up by the Water Administration and Inspection department. The Germans developed a grandiose plan to build canals (combining the waters of the Vistula and the Dnieper through the Bug, Vistula, or elsewhere), make the rivers accessible to ship traffic, and build dams for flood prevention. Once again, the Jews did the manual labor.

Four camps were established for this purpose in the Hrubieszow area. The Jews worked to regulate the Huczwa River, which flowed behind the town. 1,500 Polish professionals and experts implemented the project. The guards and the overseers were German (see Gazeta Żydowska, August 9, 1940).

By the end of July 1940, the camps were active (there were 43 such camps in the Lublin district, for some 10,000 Jewish laborers).

However, this was still not enough for the German authorities. On Tish'a Be–Av evening (August 13, 1940), German and Polish police spread through the town's streets, and began snatching up Jews for work.[24] They even took people who had certificates attesting that they worked in the Judenrat, or releases from the district chief. This showed the actual value of the German paragraphs in the German “order.” Those caught were taken to the synagogue. About 800 people were held in the synagogue for two days and two nights. A few young people from the province were also taken in; they were beaten and tortured; no one was allowed to come to their assistance.

On the fourth day, the district chief appeared. He freed 147 people (see Die Judenausrottung). The rest, about 600 men, were ordered to stand in rows, and taken to Belzec.

In Belzec, the Jews were put to work on a new project. They constructed a wall and an anti–tank trench along the Soviet border. Clearly, even at that early date they were preparing for the war with the Soviet Union that actually began a year later. In that camp, too, some workers were tortured to death; others died of starvation and the epidemics that spread throughout the camp. However, the work was finally finished, and over half of the workers were sent back to Hrubieszow.

Two years later, other transports of Jews from Hrubieszow were sent to Belzec, but these Jews never returneds home; in the interim, an extermination camp had been established there. The trenches that the Jews of Hrubieszow had dug, and which – as we know – played no role in the German–Soviet war, now had a purpose (German economy!). They served to bury the Jews who were gassed. The Germans used this method at first; later, they had the bright idea of digging up the corpses and setting them on fire.

In the fall of 1940, the owners of the surrounding estates asked the district chief to give them Jewish workers, as the Polish workers had been arrested and taken to work in Germany. Jews were not yet being sent to Germany, as Germany needed to become Judenrein[25]. Only when conditions worsened, and there were no more sources of non–German workers, Jews from the camps in Poland were also sent to work in Germany.

The district chief agreed to the request of the landowners. Of course, the intervention of the Judenrat (gifts) also helped; the Judenrat was interested in having Jews involved in farming in the vicinity, mostly with familiar Poles, rather than have them be sent off to some distant location.

The work was relatively easy, and the treatment better. The workers were given better food, and some wages. Fourteen such “farming centers” were set up around Hrubieszow; refugees also worked there, including intellectuals from Warsaw and Krakow who had fled to Hrubieszow and remained there as well as in the nearby towns. The camps also supplied women with work in the kitchens and household management. The Judenrat, for its part, created a position for an inspector, who visited the camps from time to time, took care of sanitation, and served as liaison between home and the camps.[26] The work for Polish landowners was, in fact, easier. However, it was seasonal. Once the season was over and there was no work, the Jews were sent back to the ghetto.

At the same time, it must be emphasized that the old method of snatching up Jews for work was still used occasionally, as when a German had a pressing manual task that he had no wish to do. Of course, the Judenrat also had to supply workers to clean offices, clear roads of snow, etc.

[Columns 103-104]

As noted above, Hrubieszow was surrounded by a network of labor camps. The laborers were Jews, not exclusively from Hrubieszow. On the contrary, the number of local Jews was relatively small. Fit Jews from Warsaw, Lublin, Radom, Częstochowa, and other towns were sent there. Not all came through Hrubieszow. Some were sent by train to other stations, from which they were taken to the camps. Some did come directly to Hrubieszow, and were taken from there – sometimes on foot – to the nearby camps. This was the case, for example, with the transport of 500 Jews from Częstochowa who arrived in Hrubieszow on August 15, 1940.[27]

This also happened when the labor camp at Belzec was liquidated, in October 1940. A few trains with freed workers were sent to Hrubieszow, from which they were sent on to nearby locations. An official German document reports the following about such a transport. The “government” of the General Government in Krakow inquires of the Lublin district whether the “Jewish camp” in Belzec has already been dissolved, or is in process of being dissolved.[28] The response from Lublin of October 21, 1940, was that this fact could not be established, due to a lack of proper contact with Globocnik, the chief of the SS and the police. In principle, they write, the camp should be dissolved, and the Jews sent to do other work. But… we provide the relevant German text:

“A mysterious lack of clarity surrounds this issue, because it is not always possible, in practice, to work properly with the leader of the SS and the police”!

The writer adds that the first train left Belzec for Hrubieszow carrying 920 Jews, guarded by nine SS men. However, only about 500 Jews arrived. “It is impossible to establish the whereabouts of the other Jews.” The writer, a high official of the district, assumes that –as such a large number of Jews could not have been shot – some were freed in exchange for money. Due to the very characteristic content of this letter, we present this last section in the original German: “Wo der Rest von 400 verblieben ist, war noch nicht zu ermitteln. Da sie in diesere grossen Zahl nicht gut alle verschossen worden sein kőnnen, hőrte ich den Verdacht ausern, dass man sie vielleicht gegen Zahlung von irgendweichen Geldern freigelassen hat.”[29]

The author labels the entire episode with a single word: “Circus.”[30]

The document titled “Materials concerning the Labor Camps in Lublin District during the German Occupation (1940–1941),”[31] composed in the Warsaw ghetto and now in the Ringelblum Archive (No. 1, 3–4), contains the following note:[32]

Of the fifteen transports, with 4,118 persons, that left Warsaw since August 1940, three transports in September 1940, with 735 persons, went directly to camps in the Hrubieszow area (in Otshov, Vershin, Witków, Dolhobyczów).[33]

This work was carried out by the I. Marinowsky company. The four camps housed about 3,500 Jews, 1,000 of which were from Warsaw. On December 31, 1940, there were 670 people from Warsaw in camps in the Hrubieszow area.

At the time, there were other camps in the Hrubieszow area with no Jews from Warsaw.

The list follows:

Mircze 750 people
Varenzh ?
Marysin ?
Obrowiecz 200
Turkowice 250
Bushne 100
Ubryanov ?[34]

The camps received aid from the home cities of the prisoners, as well as from the Hrubieszow Judenrat. According to this document, persons in the camp who became ill were more than once transferred by horse and wagon to the Jewish hospital in Hrubieszow, about 10 km away.

A nurse who had been sent from Warsaw to Otshov wrote the following in her report of October 10, 1940, a month after her arrival:

“I find it difficult to communicate with Hrubieszow: the distance is terrible – up to eight hours in a wagon each way – and the roads are terrible. I have no time to travel, because the sick are suffering, and I am needed in the clinic and in the pharmacy; coming here is the only chance to achieve anything positive.”

Working conditions in the camps were appalling, the food was terrible, and the “dwellings” were barns with roofs full of holes. Thus, it was not surprising that an epidemic of typhus broke out. The sick were taken to Hrubieszow (four, from the Otshov camp). The disease now spread to people who had not been in the camps.

 

The Ghetto

The well–known secret memo of September 21, 1939, from the chief of the security police, details the methods that were meant to lead to the main goal, i.e., the final solution to the Jewish problem (in the euphemistic language of the Nazi leaders – the extermination of all Jews). This would be achieved, among other means by concentrating the Jews in confined, cramped quarters (ghettos). Smaller communities (below 500) should be immediately liquidated, and the Jews taken to larger towns near railway stations. All these instructions were carried out to the letter throughout occupied Poland, from the beginning of the occupation. But it was only later, during the Aktions (1942–1943), that the Jews understood the end goal of these gradual stages.[35]

This was the case throughout the General Government, and it was no different in our town. First, after the death march of 1940, they resettled about 355 Jews in Hrubieszow from the nearby villages. In 1941, about 300 Jews came from Krakow, as part of the Aktion aimed at rendering the General Government Judenrein. As we see, they even brought Jews from far away and resettled them in Hrubieszow County. Naturally, there is a lack of sources that report the number of Jews involved, their places of origin and resettlement,

[Columns 105-106]

the number of those who fled to other places, or were killed, on the trip. It should also be borne in mind that the Jews who found refuge in Hrubieszow during the upheavals of war were among those collected and sent elsewhere.

Larger resettlement operations took place in 1942. The “government” planned to resettle Jews from Mielec in early January of 1942. They were supposed to be sent to the Lublin district; more specifically, 1,000 to Hrubieszow, and 1,000 to Chelm. A German document of January 21, 1942 reports that the number of Jews who were to be resettled was increased to 4,500; thus, 1,500 rather than 1,000 were intended for Hrubieszow county. On March 4, 1942, the governor of the Lublin district sent secret information to the head of Hrubieszow county that the 1,500 Jews would arrive by train the following week. And, in fact, on March 13, 1942, the director of the Department of Population Affairs and Concerns in Krakow communicated by telephone with the governor of Lublin district, informing him that a transport with 2,000 Jews from Mielec would leave for Hrubieszow on March 15, 1942. The transport would be divided in Zamość. The larger portion, with 1,500 Jews, would arrive in Hrubieszow at 1:05 p.m on March 16, 1942 (German punctuality!).[36]

The transport arrived perfectly on time…

A report sent on April 7, 1942, by the leader of the Department of Population Affairs and Concerns in Lublin to Krakow informs him that only 1.343 Jews arrived. The report does not state what happened to the rest of the Jews. Of the new arrivals, 843 were sent to Dubienka and 500 to Belz (closer to the Belzec death camp). The leader of the social welfare department provides no information on how people were able to settle in the impoverished, overcrowded ghettos, but does note that the majority were women and children; on the other hand, the number of men capable of work was small.[37]

By now, Jews knew the meaning of “incapable of work.” Those in that category were the first to be “resettled,” i.e., murdered. By that time, the necessary arrangements were already complete in the Lublin district.

The Judenrat of Hrubieszow was ordered to deal with the newly arrived Jews; however, at the same time, death camps for them were being constructed in nearby Belzec, Sobibor, and Majdanek.

On April 17, 1942, one day after the transport arrived, the chief of the E.G. (later “Operation Reinhard”), who was in charge of liquidating the Jews in the General Government (Jews from other countries such as France, Holland, etc. were also sent here), explained that Belzec could already receive 4–5 daily transports of 1,000 Jews each.[38] “These Jews will cross the border (?!) and will never return to the General Government area.”[39][40]

At that time, Jews were not yet sent directly to the death camp; they were first kept in the ghettos for a few months, together with the local Jews. Later, they were sent directly to the death camps. In the meantime, the gas chambers were being tried out, and “raw material” was being collected in the region before the death factory would swing into full production.

Like the resettlements, the evacuations were also precisely organized. In the above–mentioned report of March 1942, the same director of the social welfare department in Lublin, Turk, writes as follows: “Based on my proposal, complete agreement has been reached that the same number of Jews as those arriving from the west must be evacuated from local sites.”

He adds that about 25,000 Jews had been evacuated from the Lublin district in March 1942! They were mostly from Lublin. It was the first month of evacuations, and the first month that the Belzec extermination camp was in operation. (A bit later, the extermination camp at Sobibor also began operating.)

The evacuation of Hrubieszow itself began later, in June, 1942.

On May 12, 1942, the commander of Lublin District asked his officers for an estimate of the number of Jews that they thought needed to be “sent away.” The commander of the Hrubieszow region replied on May 22, 1942, as follows:

The numbers and locations of the Jews whose resettlement has priority are listed below:

Hrubieszow: 5,690 Jews
Uchanie: 2,025 “
Grabowice: 2,026 “
Dubienka: 2,907 “
Belz: 1,540 “
  14,188 “

In other words, the region commander proposes that 14,188 Jews of his region be sent to the death camps. This is roughly the number of Jews who were living in the Hrubieszow area before the war.

For the time being, the few artisans needed by the Germans – still needed – had to stay in the town. Over time, their places would be filled by “Aryans” who had learned the trade.

Once replies were received from all the regions, they began developing a plan to evacuate all the “superfluous” Jews in the district. (This included organizing guardposts, special trains, and determining the time when the camps could begin receiving Jews, etc.)

Preparations did not take long, because as early as on June 1 1942, eight days after the region commander had sent his letter, the first Aktion took place in Hrubieszow (see Aktions chapter). In order to keep the forces together, and prevent the Jews from scattering – saving themselves trouble with the Jews who lived in locations that lacked railway lines – the Jews from the smaller towns were ordered to move to Hrubieszow in late May – early June 1942. Once there, they were caught up in the general Aktion and filled the trains, which now did not have to travel only partially full.

Between May 26 and June 2, 1942, about 8,000–9,000 Jews were brought to Hrubieszow in this way from the former Belz county. Similarly, before the last Aktion of October 1942, the small number of Jews remaining in the villages of Uchanie, Białopole, Maladyatich, Letsubrovich, and other villages were taken to Hrubieszow.[41]

Another way to concentrate Jews was the creation of a ghetto. This applied to Jews from a single town, who were packed into the most rundown part of town. It was surrounded by a wall, or fenced in, for better control and separation from the

[Columns 107-108]

surrounding population. Of course, those imprisoned in the cramped ghetto were no longer able to communicate with the outside world, which made them even more dependent on the German authorities.

However, the Hrubieszow ghetto was significant in another sense. After a large part of the Jews had been sent out of the town to be murdered (see chapter on Aktions), an order was issued on June 15, 1942, to create a ghetto for the town's Jewish population. In other words, as the “non–productive elements” of the population – Jews incapable of work – had already been evacuated, a living area for the productive Jews was now being formed, so that they could work calmly for the German war production. This would guarantee their lives and meager survival until the end of the war, when the Führer would decide–after the victory – the fate of the Jews. Thus, the ghetto existed in order to protect the Jews. There were actually Jews who believed in this German theory and …went to the ghetto calmly.

Naturally, this “theory” weakened the resistance power of the Jews–which was the goal of the Nazis in creating the ghetto.

The Hrubieszow ghetto was in the eastern part of the town, and encompassed the following streets: Metalova, Novy Rynek, Prosti, Shevsky, Yatkove, and Voytostvo, and bordered on the Jewish cemetery.[42] This was on purpose: during a local Aktion, the Jews wouldn't need to be taken through Aryan streets; thus, no notice would be taken, there would be no disturbance, etc. The Germans applied the same strategy in other towns as well. The ghetto was not long–lived. October 1942 was drawing near, and with it – liquidation.

A camp remained on the site of the ghetto, on Yatke Street. The Jews called it by the Polish term Dzielnica.[43] This was for the Jews who were tasked with eradicating the traces of the former Jewish community and later ghetto.

 

Aktions

As mentioned, the Germans prohibited wild, unorganized pogroms against Jews anywhere, except at the very beginning. On the contrary, they introduced new institutions with a new concept; these became known worldwide as “Aktion.” These were organized projects of great political importance, planned by the central authorities, and carried out with the aid of all government offices–especially the S.S. and the police – to “free the country of Jews” in an organized and centralized manner. The terms of the aktions were precisely set by “the top,” as was the number of people to be taken in each contingent. Each Aktion was headed by a commander with a staff. Wehrmacht soldiers with their weapons and vehicles also participated. They were mostly used as escorts for transports to the railroad station (see Ringelblum Archive, 1130, 1).

The goal of each Aktion was to evacuate the set number of people from the town and liquidate them on the spot (behind the town, in the cemetery, and the like) or place them in a death camp. Of course, as this was a military operation –“war against the internal enemy” – the commanders of each Aktion dictated the following strategy and tactics: attack the enemy suddenly, set ambushes, allow no one to escape, and remove all possibilities of defense. Above all, the Aktion must be carried out economically: with the least possible losses of forces and materials, and saving even …bullets. Therefore, children were in fact murdered with gun stocks, and the like. In this way, they would “take” all the property of the enemy.

Up to this point, the killing of a Jew was a by–product, whether of violence in a labor camp, or of punishment for any kind of “crime.” During the Aktions, however, it was the main thing. Sometimes a small group of Jews caught in an Aktion would be allowed to live (so that they could bury the dead, etc.), but they too were destined to be murdered once their job was done.

The first Aktion in Hrubieszow took place on June 1–2, 1942: as many Jews as possible were snatched from their homes and taken to the marketplace. Polish and Jewish police went from house to house, looking for people in hiding. The German police immediately shot any Jew found hiding, or taking too long to go to the marketplace. 40 Jews were thus shot on the spot. All the others were taken to the railroad station, and from there – to the Sobibor death camp.

After those two days, the Aktion was halted. At that time, Jews were being brought into Hrubieszow from towns and villages in the vicinity. About 9,000 Jews arrived from Belz, Grabowice, Uchanie, Horodło, Dubienka, Shtshizhev, and the like.[44]

The Aktion began again on Sunday, June 7, and lasted until June 9. During that period, up to 10,000 Jews were evacuated. Those who were found hiding were shot in the cemetery. About 400 Jews were thus shot during the June Aktion.

On the last day of the June Aktion, the district commander selected about 500 men capable of work from those assembled in the marketplace. They received the proper identity cards, known as Lebenskarten, “cards of life.” The others, about 1,000 Jews, were sent on trucks to Sobibor.

As usual, the Germans fooled the Jews and the Judenrat, claiming that the Jews were being sent to work in Pinsk; or, on another occasion, to Ukraine. After the Jews were evacuated and shot, their letters would come, saying that they were in Ukraine and were doing well. Some Jews were forced to write these letters before being murdered. The remaining Jews were thus being prepared for new resettlement, with no resistance: after all, they were going to be working!

The Ringelblum Archive contains a description of the Hrubieszow Aktion of June 1942, by two representatives from Warsaw who arrived on June 7. Once they were back in Warsaw, they wrote down the following impressions:

“From a distance, we saw a large group of Jews going from the town to the railway station. – I felt faint: they were walking in rows of four each. There were over 2,000 Jews: men, women, and youths. There were very few children; I noticed only two or three children being carried. Their faces were extremely serious. There was a deep silence in the rows. Their eyes were looking, but saw nothing – as

though they were looking at a goal that no longer existed. A look of profound resignation lay on their faces, a kind of indifference to their own fate, which they could not fight in any case; a dullness.

[Columns 109-110]

I tried to find a human expression on the faces, evidence that they were still capable of reacting; but saw nothing except the expression of terrible despair, and even that – only in very few faces. By this time, the Jews were so exhausted, so apathetic, that they didn't care any longer. They were ready for anything.

The second and last Aktion took placed on October 28, 1942; it was named “cleansing out Jews.” After this Aktion, there were no more Jews in the town. The ghetto was dissolved, and any person had the “right” to kill any Jew they encountered. The Jews rounded up in this Aktion – about 2,000 – were sent to Sobibor.

On November 15, 1942, the leadership of the Jewish Fighting Organization in Warsaw sent a report to the Polish Government–in Exile in London.[45] It stated that Hrubieszow had been completely liquidated. When, on November 28, 1942, an order appeared from General Krieger (chief of security in the General Government), to the deceptive police and S. S. concerning the establishment of eight ghettos in Lublin district, Hrubieszow is not mentioned. Officially, there were no more Jews in the town. A sign at the railway station announced Judenrein (“cleansed of Jews”), as a cheerful declaration to arriving strangers.

Community health resorts in Germany had used such signs to boast, even before the war, but after Hitler took power. Now such signs started to appear in Poland. The difference between the separate manifestations of Judenrein was that the Jews of the German towns had been expelled to other towns, whereas, ten years later, the Jews of Poland had been “liquidated” on the spot, or in death camps.

It is worthwhile adding that Hennig, the commander of the German police, who in his official capacity had assisted in the Aktions, and had generally bullied the Jewish population, was caught, thanks to a Jewish soldier, in a military hospital when the city of Częstochowa was liberated. Hennig, who was lightly wounded, was trying to pass as a simple German soldier in the Wehrmacht…

 

Judenrein

During the Aktions, and later, the Germans informed the local population that no help should be given to Jews, on pain of death. On the contrary: it was the duty of every honest citizen to hand over to justice every Jew he encountered. As an incentive, they announced that a reward of money and one kilogram of sugar –or the equivalent – would be given in return every Jew, dead or alive!

There were only 160 healthy young men in Hrubieszow, who were held under strong police guard in a camp on Yatke Street. They were forbidden to make any contact with the outside world. The “tidying–up force” was tasked mainly with collecting everything that remained in the ghetto, and depositing it in warehouses for use by the Germans (Werterfassung).[46] They flattened the cemetery to ground level. The gravestones were used, letters face down, to pave a sidewalk. There were also professionals among the Jews who left the camp daily (“work columns”) to work in the town's workshops, and were marched back to the ghetto after work. One such column worked for the Gestapo.

The number of Jews in the camp diminished: some fled to join the partisans, and others were liquidated by the Germans if there was no work for them. The camp existed until September 1943. It was then liquidated, and the Jews were transferred to the camp in Budzyń. As the front neared, they were transferred further west; a few lived to witness liberation.

All this time, the Germans and their helpers continued their efforts to discover Jews who were hidden in bunkers, as well as those who were hiding as “Aryans.” Those who were caught were taken to the cemetery and shot.

Jews were fleeing to the forest, joining the groups of partisans, or building themselves bunkers in the forests or in concealed spots. Only rarely did they survive to the end of the war. Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum describes one such group in his notes of Fall 1943, when he himself was on the Aryan side, hiding in a bunker.

“In Hrubieszow, more than ten families that had avoided all types of Aktions and resettlements found a refuge in the local stone quarry. They bought food from the peasants of the surrounding villages, who did not report them. The village watchman also knew about them, and kept silent. One of the Jews was betrayed by a peasant. During the investigation, he said that the peasant had a radio, and the peasant was consequently arrested. The village watchman wanted to revenge himself on the Jews, and informed the Polish police about them. The Polish police came and arrested all the Jews, then robbed and liquidated them.[47]

 

Resistance

As was the case everywhere else, the Jews of Hrubieszow did not surrender easily to German pressure. For a long time, in spite of the death march, the regular acts of persecution, the fact that a Jew did not have a moment of freedom and was liable to be caught up for labor, and receive at least a blow from a German in a “good” mood, Jews carried on as though they didn't care. They struggled to live, as though nothing had happened and clung to their former normal life, hoping that it would not be long.

First and foremost, they made efforts to ensure that the terrifying wave of depravity did not harm the younger generation. They wanted to keep them separate from daily life: children were learning. As the public schools were closed to them, they opened schools in private homes, and studied in secret. The teachers were unemployed local teachers; there were also refugee intellectuals who had arrived and now had no means of subsistence.

As far as possible, the Jews continued in their former occupations and workshops, despite the prohibitions. Jews flouted the decree against riding the train and leaving their homes without special permission; they traveled from and to Hrubieszow unofficially: with false documents, that they either created themselves or bought from …Germans. The German administration, from the lowest rungs to the top, was corrupted enough, and eager to extort

[Columns 111-112]

money and valuables from the Jews to send home to Germany, as another way of carrying out the directives of their Fűhrer concerning the Fatherland, the Great German Reich, etc. The Jews exploited this. They carried on their dealings with the “Aryan” world. They were able to keep afloat on the surface of life, regardless of the limitations set by the Germans, and meant to lead the Jews to death by starvation, illness, and epidemics.

Jews from Hrubieszow traveled as far as Warsaw, and some even crossed the borders of the Reich (Switzerland). Representatives of the Jewish underground movements in Warsaw also arrived, with news from foreign radio stations as well as printed literature (from the Polish and Yiddish underground press). Locally, Jews were also ware of the news, thanks to the German radios in the houses where they were sent to work, even though such behavior was “officially” punishable by death. The Jews did not keep the news to themselves. They passed it on to the Poles, and even to the better Germans (there were a few of these). One official document complained, with good reason, that the Jews were spreading rumors of defeats, and should therefore be liquidated. This behavior on the part of the Jews and their strong faith in the German defeat is evidence of their spiritual strength, which persisted under the worst German terror and brutality.

One of these expressions of strength was as follows: despite the strict prohibition, the Jews continued their communal prayers, even in the barracks of the death camps, whenever the extermination machine granted them a free minute. During the final moments before death, they walked calmly and proudly. Witnesses report that some Jews went to their martyrdom wearing their tallises and kittls.[48]

This dignified bearing, as German witnesses are now reporting, had an effect on the German murderers. It weakened their faith in the justice of their cause, and aroused fear of the future. The result was that it weakened the self–confidence of the German military forces…

There were also serious attempts by Jews to organize direct resistance against the enemy. As we know, Yoysef Kaplan, one of the founders of the Jewish Fighting Organization in Warsaw, spent time in Hrubieszow. Sadly, he himself was soon murdered in Warsaw, in September 1942, as were all the Hrubieszow residents with whom he was in contact. Therefore, no information reached us about their actions in the Hrubieszow ghetto. Kaplan's diary was also lost.

More information has survived about a different mission of the Warsaw Underground. In Hrubieszow and in the village of Werbkowice, about 10 km from Hrubieszow, there were active branches of He–Chalutz–Deror.[49] The Hrubieszow branch consisted of local young people, whereas the members of the Werbkowice branch had been sent from the Warsaw ghetto. At the beginning of June 1942, the Warsaw center (located at 34 Dzielna) sent the two “Aryan” delegates Frumka Platnitska[50] and Khavke Feldman, for the second time, to contact with the members in Hrubieszow and the region, and discuss the possibilities of these branches' continuing their activity when contact with Warsaw was disrupted. The center took such a possibility into account. The instructions from Warsaw were as follows: the young people were to arm themselves and go into the surrounding fields.

The delegates arrived in Hrubieszow exactly as an Aktion was taking place. The Jews were being loaded onto the trucks. In other words, they came too late. The two brave young women returned to Warsaw and reported on their trip: thousands of Jews were being taken to be murdered in a death camp. However, no one believed them.[51] In fact, the following item appeared in Yedi'es (the clandestine organ of He–Chalutz–Deror in the Warsaw ghetto): “As we write these words, thousands of Jews are being taken away from Hrubieszow, Grabowice, and Uchanie, in an unknown direction…”

The mission of the two women did not achieve its goal. However, it was not totally unsuccessful. Their report aroused the attention of the Warsaw leadership and mobilized it for unity and active resistance when Warsaw would be in the same situation. Contact with Warsaw was now cut. There was no more hope for help from outside. The local young men now took the initiative into their own hands.

Halfway through 1942, the young people began to flee to the partisans in the forests. The rest of the Jews, hearing about the wave of extermination that was inundating the entire district, began to build bunkers, or went over to the Aryan side. Many Jews were saved in these ways during the first Aktion.

Of course, the Jewish partisans had to withstand a double pressure: both from the Germans and from Ukrainian partisan bands. More than once, a Jewish partisan was fooled by a non–Jewish partisan, and handed over his weapon; he himself was now left defenseless. On other occasions, a Jewish partisan was killed by a non–Jewish comrade–in–battle.

A separate topic is the kibbutz in Werbkowice, which existed for a year (June 1941–1942).[52] Three groups (about 60 young men) were sent from Warsaw; they were organized around two places: Hrubieszow and Werbkowice, as a base for partisans who had to leave for the forests. Sadly, the wave of extermination happened before the plans were carried out. Informers were at work in this case, too, and the groups were liquidated.[53] A contemporaneous Yiddish document discusses this.

In the spring of 1944, the commander of the Jewish Fighting Organization (in Polish, Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa – ŻOB) sent a report to London, reporting on the work of the Jewish Partisans Movement in the Hrubieszow forests. A group of 15 pioneers had been sent there before the major evacuation from Warsaw (prior to July 22, 1942). They were tasked with organizing an independent partisan group and beginning active battle with the Germans. A second group of about 30 men was sent later, in August 1942. A third group of about 18 was sent in September. Due to betrayal by a Polish guide – who was appointed by the commander of the Polish “Land Army – they all fell into the hands of the Germans and were murdered. This incident also contributed to the murder of the group that had previously worked in the sawmill in Werbkowice.[54]

[Columns 113-114]

The End

Following the Judenrein Aktion, Jews vanished from the town. The few who remained were well–hidden so as not to be discovered. Only when the town was liberated did they emerge into the sunlight. Jews also returned from the forests, and, one by one, those who had been in the Soviet Union. But this handful of Jews did not stay in the town long. They first left for the larger cities (Warsaw, Łodz) and the conquered territories (Lower Silesia), where living conditions were better, and one was far from the … home of long–ago.

But the ghost of the recent past drove the Jews further. At first, they fled illegally to the German–occupied western regions, and sought a way to reach Israel or America. Soon, a wave of legal emigraiton to Israel swept through most of Poland; the majority of Polish Jews –including those of Hrubieszow – moved there.

And the town of Hrubieszow was Judenrein once more…

According to the second edition of the large Soviet Encyclopedia (1957), in 1954 there were 11,300 residents in the town; however, the nationalities of the residents are not detailed. It may be assumed, though, that in any case they were not Jewish, except perhaps for a few. As the Polish people lost over ten percent (!) of their population during the war, and 85–90 percent of Jews were lost, the Polish population of the town had also diminished. Fatalities in Hrubieszow can be estimated at 7,000–8,000 people. Thus, by 1954, the population had largely regenerated, to about 6,000 people. In a year or two, the number of Hrubieszow residents will reach pre–war numbers; a bit later, the number will even exceed that. This may already be the case.

Thus, the town will not show any loss of residents. But there will be no Jews among the new residents. Not even a trace will be left of the fact that Jews lived in Hrubieszow for centuries, and for many years were actually the majority.

 

Leyb Shnal

The Yizkor Candle Society

The Yizkor Candle Society commemorated the 400 Jews of Hrubieszow who were, according to tradition, murdered in the pogroms of 1648–1649, by donating an Eternal Light to the tailors' synagogue.[55]

The ceremonial preparation of the actual candle and its presentation to the synagogue were similar to the ceremony of presenting a Torah scroll to a synagogue. A new candle was donated on three occasions during the year: the tenth day of Tevet, the 20th day of Sivan, and the eve of Yom Kippur.[56] In recent years, the candle would be prepared in my home, using 2 kilograms of wax. When ready, it would be carried festively to the tailors' synagogue, where the town rabbi would give a sermon and explain the significance of the candle. There was a large candlestick in the synagogue, donated by the town's tailors, which held each eternal light until the next one was brought in.

In the last years, the Society's committee consisted of the following members: Leyb Shnal, manager; Yankev Essig, Fayvish Essig, Dovid Shpiler, Hersh Teller, Avrom Holtzer, and Traytl Melamed. The managers designated which members would ask all the members to contribute money for the Eternal Light. All the designated members were bound to carry out this sacred duty. Once the money had been collected, all the Society's members would gather, usually at the manager's house, to prepare the candle. On the evening the candle was carried into the synagogue, the El Male Rachamim was chanted, and the Kaddish was said, to commemorate the Society's members who had died prematurely.[57]

If a member became ill, the manager was notified immediately; he would instruct all the members to visit the sick person and pray that God would send him complete healing.

Footnotes:

  1. Original note 1: The numbers for 1897 and 1921 are according to B. Wasiutyński: Ludność Żydowska w Polsce w wieku XIX–XX – Warszawa, 1930, str. 30. Return
  2. Original note 2: The numbers for 1931 are according to Statistisches Gemeindeverzeichnis des bisherigen polnischen Staates – Berlin 1939, S. 62. Return
  3. Original note 2: See original note 2. Return
  4. Translator's note: The original includes two indications for Note 2. Return
  5. Original note 3: Yankev Leshchinsky, Yidn in der shtotisher bafelkerung fun umophengikn poyln. New York, 1943, p. 3. Return
  6. Original note 4: Wasiutyński, p. 201. Return
  7. Original note 5: Statistisches, card 25. Return
  8. Translator's note: The Bug River forms the eastern boundary of Poland with Ukraine and Belarus today; and formerly – with Russia. Return
  9. Original note 6: Compare to T. Brustin–Berenshtein, “Gerushim vi an etap fun der daytsher farnichtungs–politik le–gabe der yidisher bafelkerung,” Bleter far geshichte 1950. Vol. 3, sections 1–2. Return
  10. Translator's note: This term was used for miscegenation. Return
  11. Translator's note: Volksdeutsche indicates ethnic Germans living outside of Germany. Return
  12. Translator's note: The General Government was a German zone of occupation established after the invasion of Poland in 1939. The General Government consisted of central Poland. Return
  13. Original note 7: Dr. Max Freiherr du Prel, Das Generalgouvernement – 1940, 171, p. 312. Return
  14. Original note 8: Characteristic of this tendency is the fact that the Hrubieszow swimming pool could be used only by Germans and Ukrainians. The Germans were not even ashamed to mention this in the second, enlarged edition of Du Prel's book about the General Government. Return
  15. Translator's note: This apparently refers to du Prel, cited above. Return
  16. Translator's note: The village of Wygon (named Vigon elsewhere in the text) is very near Hrubieszow. It is not clear why the name is in quote marks. Return
  17. Translator's note: I was not able to identify Tsichovaze. Return
  18. Translator's note: This was the term for the clandestine border crossing. Return
  19. Original note 9: Compare: The Nazi–Soviet Relations – 1939–1941, Washington, 1947, 1928. Return
  20. Translator's note: The Germans set up Judenrats – Jewish councils and institutions to serve as liaison between the Jews and the German authorities, and to carry out the Nazi policies. Return
  21. Translator's note: The initials O. D. stand for the German term Ordnungsdienst, translated as Police. “Odeh” represents the pronunciation of the acronym. Return
  22. Translator's note: TOZ was the acronym of the Polish name for the Society for the Protection of the Health of the Jewish People Return
  23. Original note 10: Die Judenausrottung in Polen – Augenzeugenberichte , I Serie, Genf – 1944. Return
  24. Translator's note: The ninth day of the Jewish month of Av is a day of fasting and communal mourning for the destruction of the First and Second Temples, and other national disasters. Return
  25. Translator's note: This was the German term for “ethnically cleansed of Jews.” Return
  26. Original note 11: See the above–cited Die Judenausrottung. The anonymous writer was the inspector, until he fled abroad during the war. Return
  27. Original note 12: Dr. J. Kermisz: Akcje i wysiedlenia. Łódź 1947, p. 253. Return
  28. Translator's note: The quotation marks are in the original. Return
  29. Translator's note: This passage is presented in the German, as in the original text. Return
  30. Original note 13: The entire letter is quoted in: N. Blumental, Obozy, Łódź 1946, pp. 220–221. Return
  31. Original note 14: See Bleter far geshichte, Warsaw, 1949, pp. 242–272. Return
  32. Translator's note: The Ringelblum Archive is a collection of documents from the Warsaw Ghetto, collected and preserved by a group led by the Jewish historian Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum. The discovered part of the collection, containing some 6,000 documents (containing about 35,000 pages), is housed at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. Return
  33. Translator's note: I was not able to identify Otshov and Vershin, and have transliterated the names from Yiddish. Return
  34. Translator's note: I was not able to identify Varenzh, Bushne, and Ubryanov. Return
  35. Translator's note: Aktion was the Nazi German term for the operations involving the mass assembly, deportation, and murder of Jews. I have retained the term. Return
  36. Original note 15: The documents are presented, in the original, in Dr. J. Kermisz: Akcie I wyslidenia, Łódź 1947, pp. 12–20. Return
  37. Original note 16: The document is presented in Eksterminacja Żydow na ziemiach polskikh, Warszawa 1957, p. 383. Return
  38. Translator's note: E. G. are the initials of Einsatz Gruppen (task forces), were Schutzstaffel (SS) paramilitary death squads of Nazi Germany that were responsible for mass killings, primarily by shooting, in German–occupied Europe. Return
  39. Original note 17: The complete text of the document is presented in Rudolf Reder: Bełżec, Kraków, 1946, pp. 29–30. Return
  40. Translator's note: The punctuation marks in parentheses are in the original Yiddish. Return
  41. Translator's note: I could not identify Maladyatich and Letsubrovich. Return
  42. Translator's note: I was not able to identify these streets, and have transliterated their names from Yiddish. Return
  43. Translator's note: The Polish word means “neighborhood.” Return
  44. Translator's note: I could not identify Shtshizev, and have transliterated it from Yiddish. Return
  45. Translator's note: The Jewish Fighting Organization (Polish: Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa, or ŻOB) was a self–defense organization formed in the Warsaw Ghetto on 28 July 1942. Return
  46. Translator's note: Ghettos had a special unit of German soldiers whose job it was to collect the valuables remaining after the Jews had left. Return
  47. Original note 18: Biuletin Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, Warszawa 1959, zeszyt I–III, pp. 30–31. Return
  48. Translator's note: A tallis is the prayer shawl worn by married men during communal prayer. The kittl is a long white robe worn by men on solemn holidays; it can also be used as a shroud. Return
  49. Translator's note: He–Chalutz and Deror were two Zionist youth organizations politically affiliated with left–wing, non–Marxist Labor Zionism. Return
  50. Original note 19: Apparently, she was the author of the document from the Ringelblum Archive, quoted above. Return
  51. Original note 20: Sefer milchamot ha–geta'ot, Yitzchak Zuckerman and Moshe Basok, eds. Tel Aviv 1954. Chava Fulman: “Kesharim ba–derachim,” pp. 42–43. Return
  52. Translator's note: Labor Zionist youth groups in Europe established communal camps (kibbutzim) as training centers for young people for future pioneering in Palestine. Return
  53. Original note 21: See Sefer Milchamot, p. 106. Return
  54. Original note 22: Compare with Sefer Ha–Partizanim Ha–Yehudim, Merchavya, 1958, vol. 2, pp. 29, 61. The document is presented in the original Yiddish and in Hebrew translation in Churban Va–Mered shel Yehudei Varsha by Melech Noy (Nayshtat). Return
  55. Translator's note: The “eternal light” lamp that burns perpetually in Jewish synagogues before or near the ark of the Torah, and represents the menorah of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Cossack uprising of 1648–49, led by Bohdan Khmelnitsky, was accompanied by massacres of tens of thousands of Jews in Eastern Europe, and is often considered second only to World War II in the numbers of Jews murdered. Return
  56. Translator's note: The fast on the tenth day of Tevet (usually in late December or early January) commemorates the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E. by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, as described in 2 Kings, 25. The fast on the 20th day of Sivan (usually in June) commemorates the murders during the Khmelnitsky massacres. The eve of Yom Kippur is a traditional time for commemorating the deceased. Return
  57. Translator's note: El Male Rachamim is a Jewish prayer for the soul of a person who has died, usually recited at the graveside during the burial service and at memorial services during the year. Return

 

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