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[Page 180]


Chapter VI

The Krosno Airfield

 

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The Jewish workers, amongst them Dr. White and his father Mendel Bialywloss, were escorted to the base. Some hidden Jews of Krosno attached themselves to the column and walked to the base without being hindered by the air force guards. The base was already surrounded by SS and Gestapo men who checked papers. They had a list of the authorized civilian workers at the base, especially the Jewish workers. The latter were ordered to appear at an assembly point. The SS then searched the entire base for hidden Jews and found them. All Jews were lined up and a selection took place. All sick people, children, women, and old people were shunted to one side. Now, the remainder of Jewish workers were checked against the official list. Only those that were on the list were permitted to stay at the base. The column of Jews that just arrived from the ghetto of Krosno was also selected. According to Dr. White, only about two dozen people who had the blue identification cards were permitted to stay and join the other 100 Jewish workers at the base. The rest of the Jews were forced to march to the railway station of Krosno, amongst them Yaacov Breitowicz and his six–year–old son Henek (Zvi) Breitowicz. The SS wanted Breitowicz to stay at the base without his son. The father refused. Both were ordered to join the column marching to the Krosno railway station where the train heading for the ghetto of Rzeszow was waiting for them.

 

kro181.jpg
The late Dr. Herbert (Zvi) Breite (formerly Breitowicz) a native of Krosno and a Shoah survivor. His father refused to part with him and both were sent to the ghetto of Rzeszow where most of the Jews of Krosno would perish

 

Dr. White was familiar with the base since he and his father glazed some of the buildings there. Batia Eisensenstein nee Akselradwas also familiar with the place seeing daily Jewish workers marching to and from the air base in the initial stage of the war, since there were no sleeping accommodations at the air base for civilians. She of course assumed that her brother was one of the laborers but she was not sure since she was afraid to get too close and have a look. Besides, there were always police guards walking alongside the column and it was very dangerous for her to expose herself and she knew the consequences of being caught as a Jew. So she observed the Jewish workers from a hidden distance. We decided to research the matter and below is the result of our work.

The Polish government decided to build a military airfield in 1932 on the outskirts of the city of Krosno, Galicia, Poland. The airfield construction took a number of years and gave an economic boost to the local economy. Local artisans and technicians, amongst them the Bialywloses who were glaziers, helped built the airfield under the overall supervision of the engineer Zalekowski. The airport was officially opened in 1938 with the arrival of the Polish air force cadets. They were previously stationed in Bydgoszcz in Northern Poland. The cadets represented the cream of the Polish military youth and were highly nationalistic and tended to be anti–Semitic. Many of them were of German descent and some of them would later openly identify with Nazi Germany. As a matter of fact, one cadet named Peck would later open in Krosno the “Deutsches Geshaeft” store that would only sell goods to Germans during the occupation of Poland.

No Jews worked at the airport and the cadets had little if any contact with the Jewish population. The higher–ranking officers including the Jewish medical base officer lived in Krosno. The junior officers, the non–commissioned officers, and cadets lived at the base. On weekends some of them received liberty and came to the center of the city to let off some steam. They were often involved in brawls or fights with religious Jews who were going to or coming from the synagogues dressed in their Sabbath clothes, as happened to my maternal grandfather, Chaim Lang. We already described the incident in an earlier chapter

The tense international situation, especially in Eastern Europe, forced Poland to expand and enlarge the military defenses at the airfield of Krosno. These expansions were in full swing when the German air force bombed the Krosno airport in the early hours of September 1, 1939. The Luftwaffe also bombed the railway station, the refinery, the electric power station, and Stuka dive–bombers terrorized the industrial section of the city. The Polish anti–aircraft managed to down one German plane. The German air force returned the following days to continue to bomb and strafe everything that moved. The German armies soon rolled over Poland and reached the city and the airfield of Krosno on September 8, 1939. The German soldiers immediately began to loot stores, especially Jewish stores. Stores were forced to open and the German soldiers began to buy everything. They even asked the owners to wrap the packages and took them to the military post to be mailed home. Some paid with zlotys that they had in their pockets; the amount never reached the sum demanded. The storekeeper could protest but to no avail when facing armed soldiers. Other German soldiers paid in all kind of valueless promissory notes. The SS were of course the worst of the lot since they took items without even bothering to inform you that they took merchandise.

The German soldiers soon began to round up Jews for work details. Some of these details consisted of cleaning the streets while others consisted of clearing extensive bombing debris. Many Jews were immediately rounded up and marched to the airport to begin cleaning the place. The Germans did a very good job of bombing the airfield, so there was a great deal of work and there was a need for many hands. The work was extremely difficult and the pay hardly remunerative. The next day few Jews showed up for this work detail, which forced the Germans to seize people in the city and send them to the airport. They also rounded up Jews for clearing the debris at the bombed railway station, to clear the roads and fix damages, and to clear the bombed industrial sites.

Soon the SS and Gestapo took matters in hand. They ordered the Judenrat headed by Idel (Yehuda) Engel of Krosno to provide Jewish laborers for the airfield. Engel lived for many years in Germany and was expulsed from Germany following the order to send all Polish citizens back to Poland regardless of the number of years they lived in Germany. He spoke German fluently and was terrified of the new masters.

The number of workers increased daily since the Jews needed bread. Most of the Jewish stores were closed since they could not get supplies so they closed shop and started to look for work, preferably with German outfits that also provided security from street arrests. Jews worked at the refinery, at the railway, along the poorly maintained roads of Poland, and at the airfield. The German air force began to rebuild the entire airbase according to Yaakov Breitowicz, a survivor of the Shoah who worked at the base. According to him, the total number of Jewish workers at the airfield of Krosno reached its peak in December of 1942 when there were between 300–500 forced Jewish workers. Most of them were from Krosno or the surrounding vicinity. Some of them, like shia Wolf Zafern of Krosno, even smuggled their wives and children into the area of the airfield.

At first the Jews resisted the work details at the base because of the hard work and low pay but as time went by, the base became a desirable place for it offered the opportunity to buy food from the Polish or even German co–workers at the base and bring it home to starving family members. Most workers went home at the end of the workday. The base was relatively safe from the harassment that was a daily event in the city of Krosno. Air force personnel were by and large indifferent to the Jewish workers. The official designation of the base was “Fliegerhorstkommandantur Krosno, Fliegertechnischeschule 4, Luftgaukommando 8, Breslau.”

The head of the base was Oberst, or Colonel, Hugo Giegold, who was appointed to this base on August 10, 1942. He was born September 6, 1893 in Schwartzenbach, Germany. He was a pilot and participated in World War One on the western front. Following the defeat of Germany, the air force was disbanded. With rise of Hitler, the Luftwaffe was restored and he rejoined the air force. Promotions came rapidly and by June 1, 1939 he reached the rank of Oberst. Oberst Hugo Giegold is appointed cammander of the Krosno air base the same day that the big “action” removes most of the Jews of Krosno.

Giegold’s assistants are Major Hildebrand, Captain Hoelzl was the sport officer and very friendly to Jewish people. We must also mention Oberzahlmeister or assistant payroll officer Frankfurter who led the Jewish workers from the Targowice market place to the base. His immediate superior, Captain Pflauman dealt extensively with the head of the Jewish workers Langsam. These officers and enlisted men set the tone of the base and did not concern themselves with the Jewish or Polish workers as long as they did the work.

Of course the Polish workers were paid higher salaries than the Jewish workers who did the same work. All Jewish workers at the base were the property of the SS and the German air force paid each Jewish laborer a daily fee. The Gestapo and the SS on occasion visited the air base to check the people and the place. After these visits, the airfield returned to normal work routine.

There were Germans who sympathized with the plight of the Jews and even tried to help on occasion. According to Dr. White, a survivor of the air base, the “Zahlmeister” or paymaster Frankfurter was a real “mentsh” or human being when it came to Jews. During the first big selection of the Krosno Jews during the summer of 1942, he assembled all the Jewish workers of the base in Krosno and escorted them out of the city to the base. The SS and the Gestapo were not too happy with the base commander’s attitude to his Jewish workers but he apparently had the backing of the air force to continue with his work. Indeed the Krosno airfield became an important air base where all types of planes took off and landed at all times according to Batia Eisenstein, nee Akselrad who lived in proximity of the airfield. She was certain that her brother Awraham worked at the airbase but had no proof.

The airfield played an important role in the attack on Russia on June 21st 1941, since it was very close to the Russian border. The fighting role diminished as the Wehrmacht advanced into Russia and the distances became longer by the day. The airfield operated around the clock during the initial weeks of the war against Russia according to Batia. Planes constantly flew over their house to and from the airport. The Jewish workers went back and forth daily to their homes in Krosno. They worked alongside Polish salaried workers and German air force technicians. These daily contacts enabled the exchange of goods among the workers. The Jewish workers traded everything for food that was scarce in the city. The SS and Gestapo were starving the Jewish population. So the food that was smuggled into the city was a blessing for the Jewish population. The air force police at the base was rather lax and permitted the trade. Occasionally the Gestapo and the SS searched the workers and found food that resulted in severe punishments, but the necessity of food overrode all regulations and dangers.

The situation changed radically when posters were plastered throughout Krosno that ordered all Jews to report on August 10th 1942, to the Targowa square (old cattle market) with small suitcases. Most of the Jews including those that were just expulsed from nearby villages, appeared at the indicated place. Here the selection began. All people who worked for German firms and had permits were pushed to the side. The old, feeble, and sick were taken to a nearby forest and shot. Some young and strong people were also pushed to the side. The rest of the crowd was pushed into an awaiting train that will head to the death camp of Belzec. The transport will include the head of the Judenrat, Yehuda Engel. According to Dr.White, about 80% of the Jewish population of Krosno was on that train. There would be no survivors of this transport. Throughout the day, the Germans searched for hidden Jews and on discovery shot them. The survivors of the selection were then escorted to a small–enclosed ghetto. Then Frankfurter came and escorted the Jewish workers to the air base.

The base commander kept his usual quota of Jewish workers despite the fact that the activities of the air base steadily declined, for the front lines were far away in Russia. The SS was anxious to get rid of all the Jews at the base, but the air force prevailed and kept all the Jewish workers and some of the women and children. Occasionally the SS raided the base but the pickings were small. Then the ghetto of Krosno was ordered closed on December 4th 1942. All the Jews in the ghetto of Krosno were marched to the railway station where a train consisting of cattle cars awaited them to ship them to the ghetto of Rzeszow (“Reishe” in Yiddish) except for essential skilled workers who were issued special passes and escorted to their places of work. They would no longer return to the ghetto that was officially closed.

The Gestapo and SS men began to search for hidden Jews and shot them on discovery. 24 Jews were assigned to the air base among them Alexander Bialywlos. Mendel Bialywlos, Zalman Beim, and his son Zishe Beim. They were immediately taken to their place of work at the air base According to Zishe Beim, the airfield was extensively enlarged and handled many planes. Simultaneously with the final action in the city of Krosno, another selection was taken place at the airfield. The entire air base was thoroughly searched by the SS and they permitted only 100 Jewish workers to remain at the base. The rest of the Jewish workers were all marched to the railway station in Krosno where the transport for the ghetto of Rzeszow awaited them. The horrible trip is still vividly remembered by Dr. Herbert Breite (formerly Henek Breitowicz) who was then six–and–a–half years old. The train was crowded, standing room only, some people were dying or dead, and everybody feared the destination. According toDr.White, 124 Jewish workers remained at the base; some of them were Krosner Jews, the last remnants of the Jews of Krosno. The city was now “ Judenrein” except for a few hidden Jews like the Akselrads, or Pinhas Thaler.

The 100 Jewish workers at the base were reinforced by the contingent of 24 Jewish workers from the Krosno ghetto. The entire Jewish force of 124 workers was headed by Langsam, a Jew from Gorlice, Galicia. The force continued to work and live at the base. They were fed and treated fairly well in view of the general Jewish situation in German occupied areas. One Jewish worker named Frauwirth from Krosno died at the base after a prolonged disease and was buried at the Jewish cemetery of Krosno by his brother.

Two Jewish workers named Zishe Beim and his cousin Dolek Beim broke out of the enclosed camp and headed to the area of the ghetto of Krosno. The father of Zishe Beim, Zalman Beim was a religious person and very involved in community affairs. He was a member of the Krosner “Hevrah Kadisha” or burial society. He knew that that the “shochet” or ritual slaughterer and “dayan” or religious judge Klagsbald and his family was hidden in a bunker. Zalman Beim did not see them during the second and final round–up of Jews in Krosno. He therefore assumed that they were still in the hidden and now deserted place. Thus the request to his son to help the Klagsbald family.

The two boys left the camp, cut the barbed wires that circled the base, and headed to the ghetto area in Krosno. They reached the area and started to search for the bunker, and at last they found it. They tapped on the door and it opened. They decided to take Klagsbald, his wife, and three children to the air base for the ghetto was now deserted. They started to walk and re–entered the base where they had cut the wires. The family was hidden and the cousins of course presented themselves at their work posts on time. The Gestapo later discovered the family, since they did not appear on the list of authorized workers and removed them from the base. All these activities were hushed up for there were no reprisals.

The Jewish laborers hoped to survive the war since they knew the military situation by reading the German newspapers and listening to the base radio. The Soviet armies defended Stalingrad with determination, the Allies were in North Africa and the hopes of the Jewish workers became a bit brighter.

According to Dr. White, the Jewish workers at the base were treated correctly and were provided with ample food. The tone of the base was one of tolerance when all around madness seemed to prevail. The Oberst was even brought before a military tribunal for his accepting an invitation to participate at a party given by a Polish countess Lesikowska on October 10, 1943. The Oberst was penalized for accepting the invitation and for participating at the party. He did not consider his action detrimental to Germany. On the contrary, he showed a deep respect for people and treated them as people.

The airport activities began to increase as the German armies began to retreat. Dr. White saw Messerschmitt fighter planes, the famous Me–109, Dormier bombers, and Heinkel planes on the strips of the airport. The Germans also expanded the anti–aircraft defense forces at the base.

As the year progressed, the front moved closer to Krosno. Of course the German press constantly talked of retrenchments, but in reality

 

kro188.jpg
The Krosno airfield following the war. We see Doctor Herbert Breite, formerly Herbert Breitowicz, a survivor of the airport visiting the place. Dr. Breite spent many a day roaming around the base where his father was forced to work. Then the family was rounded up and shipped to the Rzeszow Ghetto in December of 1942, with many other Jewish workers

 

the German army retreated and the Krosno airbase was busier than ever. Then in December 1943 or January 1944, the commander of the base, Colonel Giegold and his entire staff as well as his entire air formation were transferred. Another air force unit and 400 Russian Uzbeck prisoners of war arrived to provide labor. The SS jumped at this opportunity and rounded up all Jewish workers and sent them to the Szebnie concentration camp. The camp was officially closed but there were still a few Jews left who were dismantling the camp. The work lasted several weeks and the Jewish workers of the air base of Krosno were sent to the Plaszow concentration camp near Krakow, Poland.

Jews of Krosno who worked at the Krosno air base:

Abrahamson, Szymek n the son of Berish Abrahamson
Amsterdam
Beim Zalman
Beim Zishe still alive in Haifa, son of Zalman
Beim, Joseph in NJ.
Beims Yankele (Jack) living in CA
Beim, Dolek
Bialywlos, Mendel
Bialywloss Alexander (son of Mendel, presently Dr. White)
Breitowicz Abraham with family
Breitowicz, Yaakov,
Breitowicz, Henek (son of Yaakov, presently Dr. Herbert Breite)
Frauwirth, died at the base
Frauwirth brother of above
Grayower, Sonia
Gross Oscar
Klaksbald and family
Langsam from Gorlice was in charge of Jewish workers at the base
Mahler, Moses
Mahler, Raphael
Polaner, Moshe (Heller)
Polaner, Rachel wife of Moshe Polaner
Spitz brothers,
Taubenfeld with his son,
Trenczer Shiek,
Trenczer Yosek
Weinfelds from Gorlice.
Zafern, Shia Wolf with his wife and children

Many of the Jewish workers at the base survived the war due to the relative decent living condition that the base headed by Oberst Giegold provided to all the workers.

 

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