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[Page 61]

Chapter III

Germany attacks Poland


Before long, Germany was beginning to demand Polish territorial concessions. Poland refused to grant concessions and signed hasty alliances with France and England. As German pressure mounted, Poland was facing powerful Germany armies reinforced with Czech weapons. The Polish army was no match for the highly mechanized German army that surrounded Poland from several sides. Poland began to mobilize the military reserves and prepared for war. The Polish radio constantly repeated code names for military units to present themselves at their designated places. Soldiers began to appear on the streets heading to their military bases. The process was slow, cumbersome and never completed.

Here is White's eye account of the beginning of the war in Krosno.

“September 1 1939 Hitler's armies invaded Poland. In my hometown of Krosno Southern Poland where I was born and raised I had just turned 16. Hours before Hitler officially declared war on Poland, German Stukas (dive-bombers) raided and bombed our military airport in Krosno. I was awakened by the sirens and bombing. It was around 4 AM. As an appointed warden for the street and trained to use a gas mask at school, I ran outside to urge people to get down into the cellars that had been designated as make-shift bomb shelters. Instead, we were just standing in the street watching the end of the precision bombing of our airport. Little damage was sustained by the neighboring homes. At the same time in the proximity of Krosno, the oil refinery in Jedlicze and the electricity plant in Mecinka were bombed. The Stukas returned later in the day but didn't bomb the Airbase again. A wing of a shot-down plane with it's cross and swastika was later on seen hauled through the main road”.

Although certain preparations for the war commenced earlier as the winds of war swept through Poland, the sudden “Blitz” (lightning) attack came as a shock. In the days following, chaos reigned. While Hitler's highly mechanized armies were rapidly overrunning Poland, the Polish army unprepared for war was still being mobilized. Polish Jews were among the enlisted men and officers.

The German armies raced across Poland as though they were on maneuvers. The Polish government soon left Warsaw and headed southeast near the Polish- Rumanian border. The Polish government urged all military units to head East and form a battle line along the Vistula or Wisla river. The Polish roads became clogged with military units and civilians heading East. The stukas dive bombers had a field day machine-gunning these long human columns of civilians and soldiers. Meanwhile the German armies continued their rapid advance through Poland.

Krosno was occupied on September 8, 1939 by German troops under the command of general Wilhelm List that came from occupied Czechoslovakia. Many Jews of Krosno had left the city prior to the German arrival and were now stranded along the roads leading from Krosno to the Soviet border. But the city received many Jews who were heading East but were cut off by the German army and could not continue their trip. Finally, Russian forces entered Poland and occupied Eastern Poland in accordance with the secret agreement signed between Russia and Germany. The Polish government crossed the Rumanian border and headed to the West. Hitler appointed Hans Frank governor general of Poland with his seat in Krakow.

The German panzer columns swept across Poland. The poorly equipped Polish army was no match for the Germans. The market square of Krosano became a huge parking lot for German tanks, armored vehicles and trucks. Military kitchens were set up to provide the soldiers with hot food. Telephone wires were stretched across balconies and poles that lead to the military headquarters. The Jews immediately felt the iron hand of the occupiers. Jews were rounded up for work details to clean the streets and debris of the bombing. Jewish store owners were forced to open the stores. German soldiers bought everything in sight, paid in zlotys, marks or worthless paper coupons. The purchases were immediately packaged and sent back home to Germany via military post. Jakob Leibner was forced to open his clothing store and sell or give away the merchandise to German soldiers. Most of the merchandise was removed from the store prior to the German arrival and buried in his father-in law's, Chaim Lang's cellar. He closed the store when there was nothing left on the shelves and headed home. He was lucky for in some stores the soldiers worked over the owners.

Some SS officers also came to my maternal grand father, Chaim Lang's store. They entered the store with their long black leather coats, their spit polished boots, their suspended daggers, indeed messengers of Satan. They inquired about the lack of merchandise in the store. Chaim Lang informed them in German that he acquired during World War I (he served with Austrian Imperial forces during World War I) that the Poles took everything. The Germans asked him where he studied German and he told them whereupon they asked him with what regiment he served. He named the regiment and the commanding officers in a typical Austrian Imperial military manner that impressed the visitors. The SS men were Austrian and warned my grand father to disappear. They left the store and we all began breathing again. The SS men went next door and practically destroyed the store and beat the Jewish owner. We had luck that they met an ex-camarade in arms, although Jewish, still an old soldier and decided not to make an issue. Indeed, the entire stock of merchandise of Chaim Lang's store and that of Jakob Leibner were buried in the cellar. The family also buried the silver candelabra and other expensive items. The place was sealed and invisible to the naked eye.

The German army ruled the city for a while then the German civil administration took over. Krosno was part of the “General Government” headed by governor general Hans Frank. Michael Zuzik was appointed administrator of Krosno, he was later replaced by Dr. Heimisch. The Gestapo appointed Hauptsturmfuehrer Gustav Schmatzler to head the Krosno Gestapo. He was born January 17, 1895 in the village of Neindorf. He finished public school. His assistant was Oberstumrfuhrer Ludvik Von Davier. Other Gestapo men in Krosno were sturman Oskar Backer who was born in Grodek Jagelonski. He was a descendant of German colonists in Poland and resided in Katowice where he was a butcher.Gehard Sachar, Untersturmbanfuhrer Stengler, Karl Hauch, and Paul Stenzel were also members of the Krosno Gestapo. The city itself was in the district of Jaslo whose Gestapo chief was Hauptsturmfuhrer Wilhelm Raschwitz. He was chief of the Gestapo office in Jaslo from 1941 to 1943. He was killed later in battles with the partisans. The Gestapo harassed Jews notably religious Jews.

Then the order was given that all Jews must leave Krosno. The city was near the new border between Germany and Russia, The Germans wanted to push the Jews of Krosno to the Russian side of the border To the Jews it was a terrible blow to leave everything behind and begin to wander not knowing what the tomorrow will bring. Some Jews prepared to leave Krosno, others decided to hide in the country side or in nearby villages until things calmed down. Age-old strategy used by Jews throughout their history, hide when in doubt until things calm a bit and things settle down. Soon Jews began to return to Krosno from their nearby hiding places or cellars. All Jewish organizations, associations and group activities were disbanded. Jews decided not to attend the synagogue for fear of being grabbed by the Germans. They prayed at home or in small groups in private homes. Many religious Jews abandoned their traditional caftans for jackets and tried to avoid the streets. Most of the Jewish stores or workshops were handed over to German agents. Intimidation was the order of the day. Public executions or hangings were quite common. The Gestapo arrested the Polish mayor of Krosno, Mr. Bergman his brother, some influential Polish leaders and nobody saw them again. The Gestapo ruled Krosno with an iron hand. The Gestapo encouraged Jews to move to the Soviet occupied zone of Poland. Sometimes the Russians let them stay and sometimes they send them back to the German side.

The Germans made it extremely difficult for Polish Jews to return to heir former homes in Poland from Russian occupied areas of Poland. The Germans accepted quite readily ethnic Germans and Poles from the Soviet occupied zone. Some Krosno Jews braved all dangers and smuggled their way back home while other Krosno Jews headed the other way. The Soviet authorities then opened a registration office where all Polish refugees could indicate whether they wanted to become Russian citizens. The overwhelming majority of Polish refugees refused to accept Russian citizenship. The regular inhabitants of the Soviet zone were automatically made Soviet citizens. The Soviets decided to deport all Polish refugees who refused to become Russian citizens to Siberia. Thousands of refugees were deported to Siberia throughout 1940, amongst them many Krosner Jews, notably Chaim Lang and family, Awham Munz with family , Joseph Platner with family etc..

 

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Letter from the American Joint office in Krakow to Mr. M. Wiesefeld, member of the Krosno Judenrat that he was issued a subsidy of 100 zlotys. Acknowledgement is requested. Letter dated September 17. 1941

 

In Krosno, all Jews were ordered to wear a white armband with a blue star. They were forbidden to enter parks or public institutions but most remained in their apartments. The Gestapo confiscated many nice apartments for their own use but Krosno had lots of empty places since many Krosno Jews had left the city. The Germans appointed Yehuda Engel head of the “Judenrat”. He was a native of Krosno that lived many years in Germany and was kicked out by Hitler. He was fluent in German. His assistant was Moshe Kleiner who also lived many years in Germany. They then selected a council of several members that included Dr. Jakob Baumring, Mosze Wiesenfeld, Samuel Rosshandler and Mendel Bialywlos. The council created a Jewish police and some special social tments to cope with the many problems, notably, housing, heath, sanitation and food. The health department was headed by Samuel Rosshandler.

 

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The Krosno Judenrat income and expense sheet for the month of April 1941

 

Translation of the income and expense sheet of April 1941

The Jewish Community Admistration of Krosno - May 7, 1941

April 1941 - Financial Statement in zlotys

  Income Expense
Cash on hand April 1 1941 2341.39  
Passover 1941 contributions 2757  
January taxes 385  
“Centos” – orphans organisation 315  
People's kitchen 408.90  
Various incomes 3185.67  
Sender account 377.5  
Guard expenses 599  
Legal expenses 49.5  
“Joint” 1250  
Netstandsabgabe   28
Needy   4788
Medicines   54
Public kitchen   1459.06
Sonder account   597.50
Various expenses   1010.99
Loan taxes and medical expenses   346.11
Salaries   1845
“Centos”   28.20

 

Notice the large Joint contribution to the community and the Passover contribution by the J.S.S. in Krakow. We also notice the small contribution made by the “Centos” organization that was created to help Jewish orphans. We even see that some people had to pay a minimal charge for the meals that the community kitchen provided. On the expense side notice the large expense for the needy, the public kitchen and the salaries of the Judenrat officials. Needless to say that the expenses exceeded the income with the contributions.Frequently, the community kitchen had to reduce the number of free meals for lack of money.

The Germans constantly demanded of the Judenrat workers. The workers were hardly paid by the Germans and worked very hard. The Judenrat supplemented their measly pay. Some Jews were sent far away from the city to construct roads and bridges. Others were sent to the air force base.The Judenrat collected taxes from the Krosno Jews to pay for the various programs notably schooling for the children, medical help for the needy, food for the poor. A special problem posed the Jewish from Lodz, later from Krakow and other areas in Poland. These Jewish refugees were practically dumped at the Krosno railway station. Most of these refugees arrived penniless and without luggage. The Judenrat had to provide them with lodging and the bare necessities. Engel launched an appeal requesting Krosno Jews to help the refugees. Some were lodged at the synagogue of Krosno. Others were lodged in abandoned Jewish apartments. All these activities cost money and the Krosno Jewish tax base kept declining.

As mentioned earlier, most Jewish welfare associations were disbanded with the German occupation. The Judenrat intensified its appeals to former Krosner Jews in America, the Krosner Jewish Association the American JDC and the JDC in Poland. The Joint organization continued to work in occupied Poland since the USA remained neutral in the war in Europe. Joint officials in Poland such as Isaac Borenstein born in 1899 in Kovel, Volyhn region, joined the Joint organization in Poland in 1930. In early 1940, he managed to contact German officials in Krakow and received from them permission for the Joint to operate in the “Generalgouvernment” territory. Krosno was of course part of this territory and entitled to get help from the Joint. The Joint was also instrumental in establishing a Jewish welfare organization called “Judische Soziale Selbsthilfe” or J.S.S. for short. The head of the J.S.S. was dr. Michael Weivhert who had his office in Krakow The office urged all Jewish communities to establish branches of the J.S.S. in their localities to help the needy Jews.

The Krosno Judenrat received substantial help from both organizations as the above documents indicate. The Krosno Judenrat established a J.S.S. committee in Krosno headed by Samuel Rosshandler. The members of the committee were Bendet Akselrod, Mendel Bialywloss. Moshe Wiesenfeld, and dr. Jakub Baumring. The committee established a free kitchen that provided meals to the needy Jews of Krosno. The kitchen also charged a minimal fee of those that were able to pay. There were frequent clashes between the Engel and Rosshandler over money allocations for the kitchen. The needs of the kitchen increased as the Jewish population was getting poorer by the day. More and more Jewish artisans and shopkeepers were unemployed. Their ranks were constantly increased by the additional Jewish arrivals from the vicinity of Krosno. The Krosno Jewish population steadily increased but the economic situation worsened.

Engel executed everything that Schmatzler asked for. Still Engel tried to lighten the burden of the Jews in Krosno. To a certain extent he managed to do so since the Gestapo behavior in Krosno was brutal but nothing compared to the one of Krakow or other places in Poland. Helena Stiefel, a native of Krosno and a shoah survivor, states that the Jewish situation in Krosno was much better than in the eastern part of Poland where she resided for some time. Engel did work with Schmatzler and manged to help many Jewish refugees in the city. He arranged for the safe return of Krosno Jews to their native city notably both rabbis. In many localities, returning Jews were executed on arrival to their former home. The Krosno Jews killed in Dynow were buried at the local Jewish cemetery by the Krosner “Hevrah Kadisha”. Schmatzler allowed the Judenrat and the J.S.S. to distribute to the Krosno Jews money, “matzos” or unleavened bread oil, flour and eggs prior to the Passover holiday of 1941. The Judenrat kept a record of the distribution as shown in the following pages.

Partial list of Krosno Jews that received money, matzos, oil, flour and eggs for Passover 1941. The cash amounts were in zlotys, the matzos in kilos, the oil in decagrams, the flour in kilograms and the eggs in numbers. We have not been able to find all distribution sheets.

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The Krosner Jews were busy with the Passover preparations while the Germans were busy transporting nightly troops and war materials to the border areas with the Soviet Union. Suddenly large military units appeared in the vicinity of Krosno. According to Batia Eisentein (formerly Akselrod) who lived in hiding near the airbase, the Krosno base became a beehive center of activity. Planes constantly landed and took off. Then on June 22, 1941, German armies attacked Russia. The surprise was total according to the pilots of the German air force. According to White who worked at the airbase, the German pilots openly described the bombing raids within Russia.The German armies raced across the Soviet Union as they did in Poland and France. Nobody seemed capable of stopping the German might. The first Soviet war prisoners reached Krosno and were sent to the death camp of Szebnie where 5,000 of them will be shot. The Jewish situation in Krosno worsened by the day as the poverty increased and the Judenrat collected less and less money yet the number of needy Jews increased for the Gestapo was expulsing Jews from the villages near Krosno.

The Gestapo ordered the Judenrat in Krosno to conduct a census of the Jewish population of Krosno. All Jews were ordered to stay at home while the census was conducted on June 22, 1941. All Jews who resided in Krosno on this date were recoded in the census. Krosno Jews that were out of Krosno were not recoded. Jews that preferred to hide were also not recorded Below is a list of Jews as compiled by the Krosno Judenrat on June 22,1941 and released February 10,1942. The list has 2072 names. We don't know the reason for the list nor do we know the exactness of the list. Most Jews of Krosno appear on the list and most of them would be sent to the death camp of Belzec where there would be no survivors.

Here is the list as it appeared at the Judenrat office and presumably at Gestapo headquaters in Krosno.

 

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