Some time ago, our Society undertook a project of publishing a book about Cracow Jewry and its fate during the Nazi era. A committee was formed and a considerable amount of money and material have been collected.
When we started to explore the details of this project, it became evident that the historical sources are not readily available, the material immense and the subject too serious to be compressed into one volume only. We decided, therefore, to divide the whole work into two parts: the first covering the destruction of Jews from Cracow in Cracow itself; the second part covering the fate and misery of Jews from Cracow in immigration.
We are presenting to you today the first part: The Memorial Journal containing the history and destruction of the Jewish Community in Cracow from the day of German occupation, through the ghetto, concentration camps in our area, till the day Cracow became Judenrein. It is a sad and tragic story; a story of inhuman suffering, degradation, humiliation and the total annihilation of the Jewish population.
The only bright page in this unprecedented tragedy in history is the story of a handful of brave young men and women who decided to fight for their lives and freedom and, if they had to die to die with dignity with guns and bayonets in their hands, defying the enemy to their last breath.
To these heroic Jewish Underground Fighters, we dedicated in our Journal a special chapter and incorporated the only photos which could be found.
But it would not be a Memorial Journal if we would not include also the names of our dear ones who perished in those terrible times. Their ashes are scattered all over the earth. We cannot visit their graves or put a wreath of flowers on the place of their eternal rest. This Journal is a monument erected to their memory, a visible sign of our love and sorrow.
We hope that our effort will find the approval of the members of the Cracow Friendship Society.
To us the handful of survivors falls the honour to remember, to mourn and to perpetuate the memory of the great Cracow Jewry.
The Literary Committee:
My dear Friends:
We are pleased to present to the entire membership of our New Cracow Friendship Society this book dedicated to the martyrs of the City of Cracow during the Nazi Holocaust.
It is the aim of the Society that this should be the beginning of a memorial book which will contain the names of the martyrs and loved ones of our own families parents, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives and children. When finished, it will serve as a living memorial to them, for at the present, there is no marker or monument for them except the deep scars on our hearts.
I pray that all of former Jews of Cracow, wherever in the world they may live at present, whether members of our Society or not should join us in making a complete MEMORIAL BOOK a reality in the very near future.
May I at this time express my sincere thanks to all chairmen and their Journal Committees and to the literary editors for doing a fine job with devotion and sincerity.
As ever, your president,
Roman Pytel, B.A. Cracow
To write an essay today of Hitler's inhumanity to man and of his crimes against the Jews in particular, is to repeat again and again: J'accuse. We accuse you of brutality, violence, cruelty and inhuman persecution. We accuse you of genocide of an entire people six million Jews annihilated without a trace, their ashes scattered over the earth. However, we cannot let this crime be forgotten. We have to keep remembering it in each generation so that we may guard the world against another Hitler, so that the tenets of freedom, equality and democracy can be upheld in the free world.
It is quite clear, if one studies the German documents which are available to us now, that Hitler's plans for the Final Solution of the Jewish problem were prepared side-by-side with the plans of aggression against other nations. The execution of these plans was entrusted to Heydrich, upon Goering's recommendation. The framework for the final solution was already set before the outbreak of World War II but the details were filled in during the course of the war, depending on the progress that the German conquerors were making in various parts of the world.
The fate of the Polish Jews was determined on September 21st, 1939 in the course of a Berlin conference during which Heydrich issued directives to the S.S. for dealing with the Jewish population.
In order to reach the final solution, namely the total annihilation of the Jews, many intermittent steps were devised, like the concentration of the Jewish population in large urban centres, expelling them from some territories and resettling them in others, establishing local Jewish Community Councils as an intermediary between them and the German authorities and collecting data of Jewish participation in trade, industry, professions, etc.
Heydrich's directives were very specific and yet left enough freedom for the S.S. to perpetrate acts of hooliganism, violence, harassment and arrests. Danger stalked the streets during the years of the occupation.
The first stage of the Nazi occupation, namely from September 6, 1939 to the establishment of the ghettos in March, 1941, is characterized by denying the Jewish population the benefits of Polish economy, isolating the Jewish community from the general population and diminishing all the sources of income to a bare minimum. The S.S. lawlessly engages in killing the Jews, plundering their property, desecrating their synagogues, forbidding religious practices. Films are made of the suffering and humiliation of the victims for the amusement of the conqueror and for the glory of the future generations. Some of the laws and regulations are covered with a thin veneer of justice and legality in order to lull the vigilance of the victims and to present a façade of justice to the world. The orders were supposed to be hard but just.
One of the most powerful weapons of destruction is the constant wave of deportations. Those deportations undermine the morale of the population, drain the physical strength of the victims, take away the last remnants of material security and rob the Jews of their dignity and last vestige of hope. Side-by-side, with the resettlement of the population, their property is being confiscated, looted and their businesses liquidated. The deportee becomes a homeless creature, uprooted, dispossessed and desperate. The Jewish community becomes gradually impoverished, pushed out of industry, commerce, trades and professions. Jewish property belongs to the State. According to Himmler's decree of November 1, 1939, Trust Councils are formed in order to take over Jewish houses and establishments, in some cases employing the owners at a minimal wage.
From the very start of the occupation, the German authorities introduce forced labour. Civil and military authorities hunt for Jews in the streets (easily recognizable since they are marked with the Star of David on their arm), forcing them to clean the streets, shovel snow, wash German vehicles, clean their homes, barracks and hospitals. They derive particular enjoyment from forcing well-dressed women to perform menial tasks and humiliating orthodox Jews, forcing them to sing and pray and dance in the streets, shaving off their beards and ear-locks.
The second stage of the German occupation was the establishment of ghettos in order to protect the Jewish population from the hostile local Aryan population and in order to protect the Aryan population from diseases and epidemics, of which the Jews were allegedly the carriers. In this way, the Germans had isolated the Jews, shut them off from the outside world and placed them as an easy prey to persecution, deportation and brutal murder.
The third and last stage of the occupation was the camps: camps of every possible description and name. Concentration Camps (Konzentrationslager), Forced Labour Camps (Zwangsarbeitslager), Education Work Camps (Arbeitserziehungslager), Jewish Camps (Judenlager), Jewish Workcamps (Judenarbeitslager), Community Camps (Gemeinschaftslager), Prisoner Camps (Polizeigefangenenlager), Civilian Camps (Zivillager), Temporary Camps (Durchganslager), Special Camps (Sonderlager), Jewish Transfer Camps (Judenzwangsarbeitslager), Exportation Camps (Aussiedlungslager), etc.
All those names of course signified one and the same thing, murder by every possible means: shooting, hanging, drowning, strangling, killing by fire,
by water, by cold, by hunger, by disease. There is one word missing in the German files: the name Annihilation Camp which does not appear anywhere. The Nazi created a new vocabulary with different meanings for ordinary words. The gas chamber of Auschwitz had a sign over its entrance entitled: Bath for the special treated (Bad fur Sonderbehandelte), and in the camp in Belzec: Bath and Inhalation Room (Bad und Inhalationsraume). The Nazi did not forget the proverbial German cleanliness so in the death camps there were many signs: Do not forget your soap and towel. The concentration camp for the inhabitants of Cracow was established in Plaszow and this is the third and final stage of the destruction of the Jewish community of Cracow during the Nazi occupation.
The Jewish Population of Krakow until the Establishment of the Ghetto
The German occupation of Krakow began in the early hours of September 6th, 1939. As a result of a general evacuation of the occupied territories, none of the governmental or communal bodies were left in Krakow to represent the Jewish population. Upon the recommendation of Dr. Klimecki, the then acting Mayor of the City, a Jewish Community Council had been established in order to represent the Jewish community in all matters pertaining to Jewish affairs in its dealings with the German authorities. The Chairman of the Council was Dr. Marek Bieberstein who officiated in the building of the Council at Krakowska Street. In the middle of September, the Council had been officially acknowledged by the German Security Police (Sicherheitspolizei) and by the German civilian authorities. From then on, the Council had been officially named: The Judenrat. A special section of the Gestapo was dealing with Jewish Affairs. This department contributed a lion's share to the history of Jewish martyrdom.
The fate of the Jewish community of Krakow, similar to the overall fate of the Jews in the rest of Poland, had been predetermined already in the early days of the occupation.
Before the first step toward total annihilation of the Polish Jewry was taken by the Germans, namely the establishment of the ghetto, the Jewish population of Krakow had to suffer the entire gamut of humiliation, persecution, acts of hooliganism and violence perpetrated daily by the German oppressors. Even before the first transports had left for the extermination camps of Auschwitz, Belzec, and Treblinka, the German authorities had followed their instructions from Berlin to the letter and isolated the Jewish community from the Aryan residents of the city. This policy had been consistently followed by the Germans and demonstrated in almost daily orders which started to appear as early as on the third day of the occupation.
On September 8, 1939, two days after the Germans had entered the city; Klimecki published an order demanding all the owners of Jewish stores, restaurants, coffee shops, etc., to indicate within 24 hours that this was a Jewish property by displaying the Star of David in a prominent place. This identification made it easier for German officials to pin-point and inspect Jewish businesses and it also facilitated the looting and other abuses by German soldiers.
On September 22nd, Jews and Jews only but not the Poles had been ordered to refill the anti-aircraft trenches dug in parks (Planty) all over the city. This work had to be done within 24 hours, meaning that on Yom-Kippur, which in 1939 fell on Saturday, September 23rd. This way, a double blow was dealt to the Jewish morale: Jews were forced to work on Sabbath-Yom Kippur and their degradation below the level of the Polish population was officially declared.
On September 26th, an order prohibiting ritual slaughter and another instituting forced labour for the Jewish population were issued. Further restrictions were published limiting the freedom of movement of the Jewish community as well as imposing limitations on its free choice of residence.
An order of December 11, 1939, prohibited the Jews from changing their place of domicile or leaving their former place of residence without a written permission of the Jewish Council.
The Jewish Community Council was required to provide the German authorities with a daily consignment of labour force. If, however, the council failed to supply the required force, the German oppressors would take the matter in their own hands. Jews were being hunted, captured in the streets, dragged out of their homes and kidnapped for hard labour.
During the cold winter months, German soldiers on foot or in motor vehicles would patrol the streets of the Jewish sections of the city in search of victims. During these hunting expeditions other attractions accompanied the capture of Jews. The Germans would shave off their beards, force them to pray out loud and compel them to do various humiliating exercises for their amusement.
The Jewish Community Council attempted to establish adequate labour brigades and created a special fund in order to pay the workers, replacing those who could not themselves appear for work on certain days. As a further step to satisfy the demands of the Germans, the Council had conducted in November, 1939, an overall census of the population on a racial basis. A whole series of decrees whose main objective was to undermine the foundation of the Jewish economy had been issued.
On November 30, 1939, several directives were published in the Daily Bulletin, published by the German Civilian authorities, announcing the abolishment of measures in effect until then which allowed the Jewish community council, certain foundations and organizational bodies to be exempt from taxes. Among other measures taken by the Germans whose sole aim was the destruction of the economic stability of the Jewish community, were constant house searches, inspections of documents, arrests, etc.
The ancient Jewish quarter of Kazimierz where a large segment of the Jewish population was concentrated around relics of old synagogues, was submitted to an infamous search. This inspection took place on December 5, 1939. That day and the next, the entire quarter was surrounded by the Gestapo. All apartment houses were searched and its residents thoroughly looted. Jewellery, art masterpieces, clothing and other valuable items were taken. People were being captured in the streets, forcibly dragged into their homes, searched, humiliated, beaten and shot at. Women had to submit to 'gynaecological' examinations. Many Jews were rounded up in synagogues, beaten and tortured until nightfall. The Jewish hospital treated hundreds of wounded and mutilated people on that day. The activities of the Jewish hospital had been greatly curtailed and consequently, the level of medical aid deteriorated from day-to-day.
In the first months of the German occupation, the Jewish population of Krakow had been greatly increased by a feverish exodus from the neighbouring communities deported by the Germans or seeking voluntary refuge in the big city. As a result of this wave of refugees, the population of Krakow had increased from 60,000 to 80,000. These refugees found shelter in apartments assigned to them by the Community Council and in many cases, the family living quarters had been reduced to one room for lack of space. Poverty was on the increase. The income from commercial enterprises was practically non-existent since the Germans were taking everything away and the Jewish residents were forced to make a living from selling their personal belongings. The stealing from Jews and robbing of Jewish property did not cease. The Jewish Community Council was being inundated daily be demands for money, jewellery, furniture and various other items of value. An order issued on November 20, 1939, which had for its aim to secure Jewish property, required that all accounts, deposits and safe deposit boxes in Jewish names be frozen; Jews were ordered to deposit all their assets in one bank. They were not allowed to withdraw more than 250 zloty a month and were forbidden to carry more than 2000 zloty in cash. The Germans were extremely consistent in their policy of imposing restrictions on Jewish property and in this way firstly undermining its stability and finally destroying it entirely. German ingenuity in stealing from the Jews had no limits. An order issued on July 15, 1942, declared that exemption from restrictions on foreign currency or foreign mail was never intended to apply to Jews. This was just another cunning ruse to steal from the Jewish population. The Germans sapped the vitality of the Jews to its last drop.
The Judenrat used to receive exorbitant bills from the German authorities for treating Jewish patients in city hospitals. Based on this policy, the hospital at Kobierzyn demanded the fantastic sum of 200,000 zloty from the Judenrat and even resorted to suing the Council for that sum.
In order to facilitate the supervision of Jewish property in greater detail, the German authorities ordered on March 1, 1940, the overall registration of Jewish property in the entire city. The deadline for registration was March 1, 1940. Long lines of residents formed outside the offices of the German civilian administration waiting their turn to register since they feared that if they would miss the deadline, they would be severely punished. Indeed, the Germans had announced that all property which remained unregistered by the authorities as belonging to public domain.
As far as food rationing was concerned, the Jewish population was greatly discriminated against. Jewish residents received a small bread ration; other items like sugar, fat, meat, etc., which were distributed to the Aryan residents were never allotted to the Jewish population.
In the domain of labour laws, the regulations governing employment of Jews were extremely strict by comparison with those of the workers of other faiths. Jews did not receive work cards; they had no rights to any benefits or any financial aid in case of illness; neither were they entitled to any of the compensation received by war veterans.
Following an order issued on September 14, 1940, all legal practice by Jewish lawyers was prohibited and employment of Jewish lawyers by non-Jewish firms was forbidden and punishable by immediate revocation of their legal licence.
Further restrictions limiting personal freedom of Jewish residents were issued at the beginning of 1940. Jews were forbidden to use the railway and in February, 1940, this order had been expanded to include all means of public transportation. In order to use the railway, Jews were compelled to apply for special permission. To remove the yellow start which they wore on their arm as a sign of recognition was an offence punishable by death. Jews were allowed to use the tramways only in special cars reserved for them. Jews were prohibited from walking in certain districts of the city.
As far as the education system was concerned, Jews were permitted to attend schools conducted and supervised by the Jewish Community Council.
The Judenrat in Krakow, however, failed to open any of the schools so the Jewish community was deprived of any educational facilities during the occupation. Employment of non-Jewish help by Jewish households had been forbidden on September 19, 1940.
The first mass deportation from Krakow began in the middle of 1940. There was no official directive ordering the deportation. The Jewish Council was notified directly, however, that no more than 15,000 Jews would be allowed to remain within the confines of the city. At that time the population numbered more than 70,000.
On September 15, 1940, Governor Frank made one of his blunt speeches in which he made reference to the German City of Krakow which must be rid of its Jewish character. Jews who wished to remain in the city had to apply for a special permission to do so. About 30,000 'Ausweise' had been issued by the authorities. Jews were constantly required to produce their documents for inspection and were immediately deported for failing to present them.
Many people left Krakow voluntarily in order to avoid forced deportations and had settled in the neighbouring communities. Others were forcibly deported to the vicinity of Lublin. Hardly had the Jewish residents, who had applied for permits to remain in the city, obtained their documents when a new blow struck the Jewish community. The Germans had reconsidered and decided to inspect again the documents which had just been issued. Long lines of Jewish residents formed again around the building where the German commission was making its selection. Those who were allowed to remain in the city were given new identity cards (Kennkarte). Those yellow identity cards, which were distributed by the Germans in January, 1941, were the dream of every Jewish resident who assumed that once permission was granted, the road to salvation would be wide open.
At that time, the Jewish residents were being forced to clear the city streets from the accumulated snow. At the end of every day, the German authorities would inspect the cards and stamp them with a special seal indicating that the bearer had fulfilled the requirements of forced labour. At the end of January, 1941, whoever failed to show 12 such seals was in danger of being denied an identity card.
The yellow identity card issued to the Jewish residents who were allowed to remain within the confines of the city, constituted the first step leading to the establishment of the ghetto.
In December, 1940, all the Jewish synagogues had been plundered by the Germans. Beautiful and priceless seven-armed menorahs, chalices and other liturgical items of rare value disappeared for ever. In March, 1941, an order was issued to submit the keys to the synagogues to the Germans within 24 hours. This order sealed the fate of the religious property which had been held sacred by the Jewish community for the past 500 years.
The synagogues changed their designation. Some were turned into military barracks, others served as warehouses, etc. The old Jewish cemetery near the synagogue of Remu, which had been in existence since 1552 and which had served as a place of rest to the greatest Jewish minds, Talmudic scholars, rectors of yeshivot, rabbis, gaons, founders of synagogues and where the remains of such illustrious families such as: Isserles, Jakubowicz, Bach, Spiro and others were laid to rest, was abandoned and then completely demolished by the Germans. The last remnants of renaissance tombstones, graves of Jewish luminaries had been desecrated. The synagogue oifn Bergel where the great Jewish thinker and profound Kabbala scholar, Natan Spiro, used to meditate, had also been totally destroyed.
In the Ghetto
On March 6, 1941, the worst expectations of the Jewish population materialized. On that day, a decree announcing the establishment of the ghetto in the quarter of Podgorze had been published. The term ghetto had not been officially employed at the time and usage of the term was prohibited. The German directive claimed that: For health and security reasons it is necessary to isolate the Jewish population of the city in a specially designated section where all Jewish residents will be concentrated. Jewish residents living within the limits of the city were compelled to move to their new quarters. Jews were not allowed to reside outside the boundaries of that section designated as Judischer Wohnbezirk. The boundaries of the Jewish sector were clearly defined and the deadline for the move was set for March 20, 1941.
A housing committee set up by the Jewish community council was in charge of allocating living quarters to the Jewish population which had been displaced from its former residence. In principle, Jews moving to the new district were permitted to bring with them to their new domicile, all their belongings except the furniture which had been requisitioned by German tenants. They were also compelled to leave the furnishings which could not be transported to the ghetto because of crowded living conditions. These were left to the Trustees office for safe keeping. This office was supposed to issue special permits to sell the furniture, if so desired. Needless to say that in practice it never materialized.
Jews who failed to move by March 20th to their new district were threatened with deportation. Thus began the feverish exodus. From dawn to late evening hours, the Jewish population of Kazimierz, having lived there for centuries, was on the move,
transporting their few possessions to their new homes by cars, trucks, handcarts, etc. Others were leaving the city for the neighbouring communities. On the day designated as deadline, the move had been accomplished.
The ghetto contained about 320 apartment houses where 16,000 people resided in congested conditions. German soldiers stood guard at the gates leading to the ghetto so that no one could leave its confines.
Certain factories, stores as well as the Jewish hospital and the Jewish Council were, for a while, outside the ghetto limits. The hospital was later established in the ghetto at Jozefinska Street which greatly encumbered the budget of the Council. The financial expenditure for the hospital was quite unwarranted since the hospital survived only as long as the ghetto, less than two years.
While the ghetto was being established, many people moved out to the surrounding communities hoping to have a better chance of survival. However, the German authorities had decided to increase the territorial boundaries of the city by including the surrounding communities. All Jews residing in these communities were required to move into the ghetto. This caused a great influx of population into the ghetto. The housing conditions, which were already overcrowded, had become fatally congested.
The ghetto was swarming with thousands of the poor. They lived in shelters provided by the Judenrat and were being fed by the Jewish Council. The crowded quarters and lack of proper nutrition contributed greatly to the decline of health conditions and created a danger of epidemics. The population of the ghetto increased to 19,000 people. The walls of the ghetto, shaped like tombstones separated it from the outside world. Four gates led to the ghetto. They were at Limanowska, Lwowska, Plac Zgody and on the other side of Limanowska. The gates were guarded by German police and at various points also by the Polish police. Within the ghetto, the Jewish police had the distinction of guarding the walls. The houses bordering on the ghetto walls and facing the Aryan sector of the city had their doors closed and windows brick-walled. A trolley car that passed through Limanowska and Lwowska streets did not stop in the ghetto, but the passengers could look out of the windows and observe the life in the ghetto. The German guards stationed at the gates searched all persons entering or leaving the ghetto. No Jew was allowed to leave the ghetto without a special permission, neither was a gentile allowed into the ghetto.
The Jewish Police which had been established in the ghetto (ordnungsdienst) had distinguished itself by its inhumanity towards their co-religionists and left grim memories of its brutal activities. In the beginning, the Polish force was under the supervision of the Jewish Council but in no time, they rid themselves of the authority of the Judenrat and became an independent authority directly responsible to the Gestapo.
In spite of forced labour, often accompanied by acts of hooliganism, physical cruelty, constant searches, inspections of documents, arrests, plundering of Jewish stores; in spite of the unhealthy housing conditions, poor nutrition, which deteriorated daily; in spite of all these hardships, during the first months of the ghetto, the Jewish residents felt a certain amount of relaxation. It seemed to them that the immediate danger to which they were previously exposed had passed and the threat of deportation had been averted.
People went daily to their places of employment. Hospitals, old people's homes and a special Jewish post office had been established in the ghetto. Secret education system flourished. Three synagogues were still in existence. However, this self-delusion did not last very long and the reign of terror began anew. Kidnapping in the streets, constant inspections, wilful robberies went on incessantly. In many cases during these searches, men and women were required to undress and were brutally searched by the German soldiers. These inspections were accompanied by violence and terrorism. Those who resisted were shot on the spot. Not a single day passed without new restrictions, brutality and violence. The S.S. lurked in the shadows of the night and attacked people returning from work.
At this stage of the occupation, the Germans were spending their first winter on the Russian front and were in dire need of winter clothing. Close to the Christmas holidays, the Germans proclaimed in the streets of the ghetto that all furs in Jewish possession must be turned in. Anyone refusing to comply with this order would be executed. The same day close to 8,000 furs were collected in the offices of the Jewish Community Council.
Rumours started to circulate again that the German authorities were planning to diminish the size of the ghetto and consequently deportations would begin. The rumours proved to be true. One night, the ghetto was surrounded. Representatives of the special section of the Gestapo and of the German civilian administration were about to determine who would be allowed to remain in the ghetto and who would be deported. Residents bearing identity cards with the seal of the S.S. Polizeifuhrer were the lucky ones who were permitted to remain in the city.
On June 1, 1942, all those residents who did not possess the cards with the proper seals were led by the Jewish police to Plac Zgody. The square filled up with women, children, young and old. All were being loaded on trucks. Within a few hours the ghetto emptied out. However, the streets were still patrolled by the German police cars, an indication that the action had not yet been completed.
German authorities had been dissatisfied with the number of deportees. On June 3rd, the search began anew, identity cards were being checked again and a new selection began. The following night, the deportation began. People were being kicked, beaten, pushed, shot at and mutilated. The road was covered with corpses. Among the deportees was Dr. Arthur Rozenzweig and his family, chairman of the Community Council who bore the responsibility for not fulfilling the deportation quota.
Several women were asked to sit down in carriages which were brought for this purpose and the Germans were taking pictures to publicize the humane way of treating the Jews. In reality, everyone was rushed at a running pace to Prokocim where they were all loaded into sealed baggage cars destination the East. Those who remained behind in the ghetto never believed that their loved ones were being sent to the annihilation camp in Belzec. When they received the news from them from Prokocim, they continued deluding themselves that they were being deported to other cities.
The Germans were well aware of the fact that there were still several thousand people in the ghetto without identity cards. The Jewish police continued to patrol the streets. Within a short period of time, a new decree had been issued. A new inspection of identity cards was being held by the German authorities. All the residents of the ghetto, including those bearing identity cards stamped with the seals of the S.S., were required to present themselves before the authorities. A thorough inspection of labour cards and identity cards was held. New blue slips, called Blauschein, were attached to the identity cards. From then on, only these cards entitled the Jewish residents to remain in the ghetto and were ordered to assemble in the courtyard of the Optima factory at Wegierska Street. They were not permitted to take any of their possessions with them. The courtyard had filled up with people. Hungry, thirsty, hot and exhausted, the residents of the ghetto were awaiting their fate. More and more people who were denied permission to remain in the ghetto joined their ranks. Old people, hardly capable of walking, patients who had been dragged out of their hospital beds, crippled men and women on crutches who were being led by others. For two solid days, they remained in the courtyard of the factory without food or drink many of them collapsing from exhaustion in the debilitating heat.
On Monday, June 8th, the action began. People were driven through Limanowska, Wielicka to the railway station at Prokocim. They were then loaded onto sealed baggage cars going to the East. As a result of this deportation, the population of the ghetto was decreased by 6,000 people.
It never occurred to the residents of the ghetto that deportation meant death since they were completely ignorant of the extermination actions held in other Jewish communities. They did not believe that their relatives and friends were being sent to Belzec to perish and they still clung to the straw of hope that they were being resettled in the East.
Following the deportation, a wave of suicides occurred in the ghetto and some also tried to escape. The territory of the ghetto had been cut again in accordance with a decree issued on June 20th, 1942. The south side of Limanowski Street had been severed from the body of the ghetto whereas the north remained within the ghetto.
All residents of the Limanowski, Czarnecki, Benedikt, Kragus and Wegierska streets had been given until June 25th to find new living quarters within the curtailed area of the ghetto. Due to lack of space, residents of these streets were compelled to leave behind them most of their belongings. The area of the ghetto was greatly diminished; living quarters became much more congested. The atmosphere of despair prevailed among the dwellers of the ghetto. Life became even harder; the freedom of movement more confined; permits to leave the ghetto were hardly ever issued it became more and more difficult to make a living.
The Jewish population, exhausted from malnutrition, forced labour, constant persecutions, economic impoverishment, was awaiting in quiet desperation its final fate.
Rumours again began to circulate in the ghetto about further deportations. On October 27, 1942, the entire population of the ghetto was tense with fear, dreading a new action which was about to begin within 24 hours according to rumours reaching them from the Aryan side. A feverish search for hiding places began. People were trying to hide in cellars, attics or escape temporarily to friends on the Aryan side of the city until the completion of the action. The same day, a patrol of German security Police approached the wall of the ghetto and completely surrounded it. New decree was issued ordering all the bearers of labour cards to appear next morning in the building of the Jewish Community Council.
Since the early hours of the morning, dignitaries of the S.S. and the Gestapo continued to arrive in the area of the ghetto to take charge of the action. At 10 hrs in the morning, the inspection of documents began at Jozefinska Street. The German police started to shoot; the streets were covered with corpses. The S.S. were inspecting documents, conducting house-to-house searches, beating their victims unconscious and shooting people. In the hospital, the medical personnel were dragged out into the street and those doctors and nurses who refused to leave their patients were shot on the spot.
In order to increase the number of deportees and to draw out those who have succeeded in hiding throughout the action, the Germans had declared the ghetto Judenrein. The ruse was successful and 2,000 people emerged from their various hiding places.
In the course of the October action, the people residing in the Old Peoples Home were all brutally murdered. Another victim of German atrocities was the children's orphanage and various shelters for the poor. Children were dragged out of the hospital for contagious diseases and loaded on crowded trucks. The October ‘selection’ was one of the most tragic and bloody actions which took place in the ghetto. Six thousand persons were deported; hundreds killed in the ghetto as such. Blood spattered streets, ransacked apartments; streets were strewn with corpses; their close relatives and friends no longer there. This was what the residents of the ghetto found that evening upon returning from work.
Following the bloody deportation of October, rumours began to circulate that the camp in Plaszow, which was in the process of being built, was in reality destined for the remnants of the ghetto population. The days of the ghetto were numbered. In November, another decree had been published diminishing further the already decreased territory of the ghetto. The east side of Lwowska Street, Dabrowski and Janowa Wola were severed from the ghetto.
At the beginning of December 1942, a team of engineers appeared in the ghetto with new plans and diagrams. It appeared that the ghetto was about to be divided into two sections: A and B. As a result of this division, a new decree was issued ordering all residents with labour cards who resided in ghetto B to move to section A, whereas those unemployed who lived in sector A, to move to ghetto B. Within a few days, section B emptied out. The congestion in section A became unbearable. The gate dividing the two sections of the ghetto was guarded day and night and no one was permitted to leave or enter without special permit.
Life in the ghetto went on restlessly and fearfully. Dread and fear of the uncertain future permeated all walks of life. Constant searches were being held by the S.S. often accompanied by violence and brutality. Houses were being raided, people caught in the streets and dragged from homes regardless of age and sex, never to be seen again.
The year 1943 started on an ominous note. In accordance with instructions from Berlin to further isolate the Jews from the general population, the freedom of movement of the Jewish residents was further restricted. The Jews were prohibited from moving on the streets which were parallel to the ones in the Aryan sector of the city. All stores located in the streets bordering on the wall were closed down.
The liquidation of the ghetto was turning into reality. It was only a question of time when the final chapter of this tragedy would be written.
The population of the ghetto was diminishing daily. Transports were being sent to the camp in Plaszow almost daily.
At the beginning of March, Commandant Goeth advised the Community Council that the Jews would be transferred from the ghetto to Plaszow. On March 13th, the residents of section A were ordered to proceed immediately to the camp. The order created a panic. The ghetto had been immediately surrounded by the S.S. and the Jewish Police. Within 3 hours, 8,000 persons, all employed, able bodied men and women from ghetto A were on their way to the concentration camps in Plaszow at Jerozolimska Street. Thousands of others were shot to death. Once more, Jewish corpses were piled up in streets and Jewish blood stained the pavements. No children or minors below 14 years of age were permitted to be taken to Plaszow.
Goeth himself conducted a minute search among those who left for Jerozolimska in order to determine whether anyone had smuggled out their children. All children were sent to the Kinderheim and Goeth had promised the parents that the children were to follow the next day. However, his promises proved false. The Germans immediately proceeded to the liquidation of the Kinderheim at Josefinska Street. The children were brought from the home, babies were brought in baskets and carriages and they were all brutally murdered. All the children who were assembled in the square were also mercilessly killed.
The very next day, on March 14th, 1943, ghetto B was annihilated; its inhabitants killed without pity. In these 2 days, 2,000 (two thousand) Jews had been murdered in the ghetto and in addition, 1,000 had been sent to Auschwitz and exterminated. The ghetto as such ceased to exist. Only member of the Jewish Police, the infamous ‘Ordnungsdienst’ and their families were left in the ghetto to supervise and help with cleaningup operations. Their reprieve did not last long.
During the night of December 14th, 1943, an armoured patrol of the S.S. under the leadership of Goeth surrounded the building of the Jewish Police. All the members of the Ordnungsdienst, together with their families, were loaded into trucks and taken to the camp in Plaszow where they were all killed. The last victims of the ghetto were the Commander of the Jewish Police, Simha Spira and his family, as well as other members of the Ordnungsdienst, traitors to the Jewish community who had so ‘loyally’ served the Germans.
A few weeks later, teams of workers commenced the final destruction of the ghetto wall. The ghetto was wiped out from the face of the earth.
A new chapter of the extermination of the Jewish community was about to begin: The camp in Plaszow.
The Camp in Plaszow
The camp was situated on the grounds of two Jewish cemeteries. With time, however, as the number of prisoners increased, the camp expanded reaching Swoszowicka Street in the west, Panska in the south and Wielicka Street on the eastern side. The main gate was facing Jerozolimska Street. The camp was surrounded by a double strand of barbed wire, divided by a ditch filled with water. The ground was rocky, in parts even swampy. Since January, 1944, the camp was called Concentration Camp until then, however, it was considered as a camp for forced labour: Zwangsarbeitslager.
The inhabitants of the ghetto were being gradually transported into the camp. At the beginning, only about a hundred people were brought into the camp daily. Up to November of 1942, only 2,000 prisoners were living in the camp. Only with the new methods introduced by the new commandment of the camp, Amon Goeth who had taken over the management of the camp in February, 143, was the expansion of the camp facilitated and at the same time, the liquidation of the ghetto itself had been speeded up. The camp had been prepared to absorb not only the 8,000 Jews brought in from the ghetto on March 13th, 1943 but to absorb also Jews from outside the city as well.
Due to the cruel methods introduced by Goeth, the camp had speedily increased its size; new grounds had been added in order to house the soldiers who guarded the camp; the administration of the camp which had its own buildings; the estate of the commandant and the residential quarters of the officers.
The main gate was closely guarded. Across the street from the gate was the telephone exchange, broadcasting from the office of the commandant all announcements and camp regulations.
In order to delude the Jewish population into believing that this camp was destined for work only, it was called at its inception a labour camp. Notwithstanding the various names given to these camps, they were all in reality execution camps.
Before Goeth appeared in the camp, there were no instructions or regulations given to the prisoners. There were no local authorities which the prisoners could approach with concrete problems. All this had changed with the arrival of Goeth. He was the one and only authority in the camp. He made all the decisions and had the first and last say in the selection of prisoners either for life or for death.
Labour, Penalties, Torturing of Prisoners
One of the cruellest penalties meted out to the prisoners was the flogging after which the prisoner was placed in a cell where he could not sit or move he could only stand and stand he did for 12 to 24 hours! After this punishment, the prisoner suffered for weeks from swellings and various aches and pains.
Most of the prisoners were employed in the quarry, where the German S.S. in charge, Kehmer, was well known for his brutality toward the prisoners. Goeth's main amusement was to watch the prisoners while they were being attacked by his vicious dogs. Under the slightest provocation, the most inhuman and brutal punishments were meted out to the prisoners.
When Goeth's house had not been completed within the time prescribed, he called in the engineer in charge and the worker who was supposed to execute the order and commanded them to fight each other. When they did not slap and hit each other hard enough, Goeth himself stepped in to demonstrate how this should be done, and he was not satisfied until he saw the blood flowing from the faces of the prisoners.
In the quarry, the prisoners were being forced to carry extremely heavy rocks. After two or three hours of such backbreaking labour, they would often collapse from sheer exhaustion. The S.S. would then beat them, kick them and often kill them outright. Another punishment was flogging. The day after the punishment was administered, the prisoner had to present himself before the commandant and thank him for meting out the penalty to him. After a day of hard labour, prisoners returning to the camp were required to execute various useless tasks moving wood, bricks, stones and rocks from one part of the camp to another. The list of persecutions and brutality is endless.
Women and men were forced into the laboratories where their blood was drawn in large quantities, weakening the already exhausted prisoners even more. These operations were performed by ‘sanitary’ personnel who were also in charge of the selection of prisoners in illhealth, unable to work and who reported their names to camp authorities.
Death Penalty, Executions
The constant threat of death and execution did not hang over the prisoners until the arrival of Goeth in the camp. Life was full of hardships even then but the fear and dread of being shot at, brutally tortured at the S.S. slightest whim, did not endanger them then.
As soon as Goeth took over the management of the camp, the conditions in the camp had undergone a radical change. The methods employed by Goeth
were characterized by completely wilful administering of brutal punishment and death. Executions became part of the daily routine of the camp. People were shot for the slightest deviation from camp regulations or even without any reason. There were some attempts of escape from the camp. However, during Goeth's administration, anyone who was caught was immediately executed.
It often occurred that after a sleepless night spent drinking, Goeth would appear at 6 o'clock in the morning when the prisoners were about to leave for work and would summarily shoot at them, killing people at random.
People were being shot at, hanged and mutilated for smuggling bread and other food items into the camp. Flogging of prisoners, selections of women and children and killing them on the spot by the Ukrainian guards or brutal beatings by the S.S. were normal daily occurrences. The whole camp was required to watch the executions of their fellow prisoners. People were being hanged and after having been already pronounced dead, would be shot in the back of their heads by Goeth. Undesirable witnesses to his violent excesses were killed immediately under the pretext that they were preparing an uprising against the administration of the camp. After one inspection, which was aimed at the confiscation of Jewish property, some silver coins were found in one of the barracks. The prisoner in charge of that block of barracks was immediately shot.
Often mass executions took place of prisoners who were being brought into camp from the prison at Montelupich. These prisoners did not even have a chance to be registered in the camp file. They were ordered right away to jump into previously prepared ditches and were shot one by one by the S.S. Later, the guards would burn the corpses. For witnessing, assisting or participating at the execution, the S.S. men would receive special bonuses and whisky. One prisoner was discovered to possess Peruvian documents. He was ordered to run. As soon as he started running, Goeth had his dogs chase him. They caught him and started tearing him to pieces. In agony the prisoner fell to the ground. Goeth approached him and shot him.
Another day, 16 prisoners who were employed in the cable factory were accused of performing acts of sabotage. They were forced to undress and were all executed. The naked corpses were brought to the bath house and buried there.
In November 1943, during resettlement of Jewish residents to Skarzysko, Goeth was on a tour of inspection in workshops for locksmiths and machinists. During his inspection in one of the locksmith workshops, he shot one prisoner. A moment later, he went to the mechanics workshop and there he selected a prisoner to be sent to Skarzysko. When the prisoner begged him to leave him in camp since his family was there, he did not answer but took out his revolver and shot him on the spot. Another incident occurred among the employees of the steam baths. Two of the prisoners escaped and Goeth ordered the whole group of 24 men and women to be shot.
In the first months of the existence of the camp, inmates were often witnesses to the killings of prisoners who had been brought to the camps from various prisons. One day, a group of twelves prisoners was shot by Goeth for alleged underground activities in the ghetto. Among them perished two members of the OD (Jewish Police): Leon Kunz and Josef Goldwachs. Another time, Goeth drove into the camp and noticing a woman washing a car, stopped his car and shot her.
Executions by hanging were also perpetrated on children. One day all the prisoners were ordered to line up in front of barrack number 20 where a gallows was built. Two children were hanged, fourteen and fifteen years old. When the rope tore under one of them, Goeth himself made sure that the child would die and killed him with his revolver.
Religious practices were strictly forbidden. Two prisoners were standing one morning with their phylacteries, holding a prayer book and as soon as they were noticed by the S.S., they were shot. All the inhabitants of the ghetto who were found in the area of the ghetto after its liquidation on March 13, 1943, were executed on the grounds of the cemetery in Plaszow.
One day, six prisoners were accused of preparing an escape. They were employed at the time in the cable factory. The prisoners had been locked up in a cellar by one of the guards and the next morning, they were brought into camp where they were immediately shot. All the prisoners who contracted contagious diseases were immediately executed. Constant selections of people who were in illhealth or old were being held in camp. After the selection, these prisoners were usually led out and shot.
Selection for Health Purposes
At the end of April, 1944, Goeth received an order from Berlin to receive several hundred prisoners from a Hungarian transport. He agreed to accept some of them if he would be allowed to clean up the camp from unproductive elements, namely the old, the sick, the children and those prisoners who were in such a state of exhaustion that they were incapable of performing any hard labour. Goeth was given the power to make the selection. At the same time, he was notified that a transport of prisoners from Plaszow should be sent to Auschwitz for extermination.
On May 7th, 1944, a selection was held in the camp for socalled health purposes. The camp physician
Dr. Blanke divided all prisoners into two groups; men and women separately. He then marked their registration card with a coded sign which, of course, none of the prisoners understood at the time. A week later, on May 14th, all those indicated by the camp doctor were called during camp inspection. A selection was also made in the camp hospital. This transport had 1400 people including 286 children. They were all sent to Auschwitz.
Children were loaded on trucks. Families were split. Some children were in the transport while their mothers remained in Plaszow. The inhabitants of the camp were panicstricken. Prisoners were crying, weeping and mourning for their relatives and friends. Goeth, who dreaded an uprising, threatened the prisoners that whoever would dare leave camp would be immediately executed.
Looting of Valuables
Jewellery and other valuables were confiscated on the prisoner's arrival in camp. All the property taken from prisoners who had been executed was deposited in what was called: Effektenkammer. Some of the valuables which were found on the bodies of the prisoners who were shot or hanged were sometimes deposited while still covered with blood. The camp dentist used to pull out gold teeth from the executed prisoners after they had been killed and deposited these in the Effektenkammer.
Liquidation of the Camp in Plaszow, Resettlement of the Prisoners in Other Camps
Transports of prisoners were being gradually sent from Plaszow to other concentration camps in view of the approaching front lines. Two thousand prisoners were sent to Flossburg, others to Auschwitz, Stutthof and Gross Rosen. In July, 1944, a large group was sent to Mauthausen. Some prisoners went to a camp in Szebnie, where they lost their lives.
In September, 1944, there were only a few hundred inmates left in camp. They were ordered to knock down the barracks, burn corpses, bury the ashes and do everything possible to erase all traces of crimes committed in the camp.
By the end of 1944, the concentration camp PlaszowJerozolimska ceased to exist. Amon Goeth was condemned to death and executed by Polish authorities on September 13, 1946. As one of the crimes committed by him was listed: his direct and/or indirect responsibility for the murder of eight thousand persons, almost all of them Jews, in concentration camp Plaszow from February 1, 1943 to September 13, 1944; as another of his crimes was listed his responsibility for the murder of 2000 Jews during the liquidation of the ghetto on March 1314, 1943.
The Jewish Community in Cracow consisted of 65,000 Jews before the war. A registration conducted on November 8, 1939, showed an increase to 68,500 persons, since Jews from small cities and hamlets situated around Cracow started to move into the city. Out of this number, less than 1,000 returned to their home city after the war. A very small number of survivors live dispersed all over the world but most in Israel and the U.S.A. More than 65,000 or over 95% perished in the Holocaust.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Krakow, Poland Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2021 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 28 Dec 2015 by JH