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II. Extermination
(“Aussiedlung” and “Actions”)

The first news about the systematic annihilation of Jewish areas of settlement reached the ghetto in the spring of 1942 by way of refugees who had escaped the Lublin and Sieradz “Actions”. Although the Lublin refugees did not know how much of the Jewish population of their city had been exterminated, (they only brought with them a little information about the liquidation of the Lublin ghetto and about the concentration of members of the working classes in Maidanek), the refugees from Sieradz and other places which had been incorporated into the Reich (like Kladowa) brought exact details of the mass killings in Chelmno.[1] While the “Aussiedlung” Actions were taking place in Lublin, Krakow, Lwow, Tarnow and Warsaw, the inhabitants of the Piotrkow ghetto streamed, en masse, to the Community building to get information about the fate of the victims of the “liquidation”.[2]

The telephone of the Piotrkow Community was constantly in contact with Warsaw, particularly during the “Action” there (July 22 to September 13, 1942). During the course of this long “Action” in Radom, capital city of the district, on August 15, 1942, also created great panic.[3]

Some of the people continued to live under the illusion that what had happened in Warsaw and other cities would not happen in Piotrkow.[4] The Jewish Council, however, had information from reliable private sources that the Gestapo was preparing a list of the Jewish population for special purposes.[5] The Council made efforts to provide more work by creating new workshops, including the setting up of a large clothing workshop, close to the border of the ghetto, which made various articles of clothing for the Germans.

Carpentry workshops were set up as well as a linen factory (260 men and women worked at 53 sewing machines), a hosiery workshop; a fur workshop (the only one for which the Germans supplied the materials) and a shoe factory. The Community in the belief that the people might be protected from an “Aussiedlung” by becoming a working ghetto, like Lodz.

The shops tried to employ mainly women as it was deemed more suitable for the men to work in German work places. In point of fact, it was mainly those who had good connections with the community heads who received work in the shops, while they really skilled workers were not employed.[6] The number of positions in the Bugaj Hortensia and Kara factories was limited.[7]

The Gestapo began its preparations for the “Aussiedlung” at the beginning of September 1942, with the creation of a small ghetto. The block of houses beginning with Staro-Warshawska and Garntsarska Streets was fenced in with barbed wire.[8] Reder's house at Jerozolimska 12 was designated for the use of the Jewish Council, the sanitary police and the Jewish police force. All the other working people were assigned 12 houses on the right side of Staro-Warshawska (N°3-25)[9] It was rumoured that only 3,000 “productive” Jews would remain on this street, out of a total of 25,000 Jews.[10] During the days preceding Rosh Hashana, the Germans began to fence in, with barbed wire 2.1/2 metres high, the so-called “small ghetto

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block”. This was actually a square, its east side bounded by Jerozolimska, its west side by the Fary Church, its south side by Garntsarska Street and its north by Staro-Warshawska. The only exits remaining from the ghetto were from the Fary Church and Jerozolimska.[11]

During the Holy Days of 1942, a deep depression came over the inhabitants of the ghetto. All the houses of worship were overflowing as Jews prayed for the destruction of the evil nation. The news that the Tchenstochow ghetto had been surrounded by an “Extermination Commando” and that an “Action” had started there, reached Piotrkow at the end of Yom Kippur and deeply shocked the Jews. Not long afterwards, a number of young men from Tchenstochow, who had escaped from Treblinka, arrived in Piotrkow (they were naturally very careful that the Gestapo should know nothing of their existence).

An eye-witness relates that the Jews of Piotrkow foresaw the coming destruction clearly. They had to begin preparing ways of meeting the calamity, the older generation by repentance and prayer, and some of the others by escaping to the “Aryan” side or by building bunkers.[12] People sold everything possible. Many Christians gladly took away Jewish goods, “to hide” or as gifts. The main desire was for food articles.[13] A number of girls arranged weddings with Jewish policemen in order to save themselves from the “Aussiedlung”. For parents who could not ensure their children against the coming calamity, their despair and helplessness were overwhelming. An eye-witness writes: “I first experienced the unbelievable power of love of parents for their children in the ghetto during those days”.

All the Jews from the neighbouring cities and villages, Gorshkowitz, Suleyow, Rosprza, Wola Krzysztoporska, Srotsk, Wolborz and others, were driven into Piotrkow ghetto on the eve of the “Action”.[14] Thus, the ghetto contained about 25,000 Jews.

As the date of the “Action” approached, the tension grew from day-to-day, especially with the arrival of Jews who had escaped the “Aussiedlung” in Radom. The situation became hopeless and the depressed and apathetic Jews simply didn't have the power to organise any means of self-defence.

This situation had been created by the refined tactics of the Germans in preparing for the “Action”, based on the idea that after the victims had been “prepared” over a long period of time, by hunger, terror, demoralization and complete isolation from the outside world, they would let the Germans do whatever they wished with them, without resistance. Nevertheless, the Jews of Piotrkow sought means to avoid the destruction, at least by passive resistance.

Certain people hid themselves in the hospitals and even underwent operations there in the hope that they would survive the “Action” in this way. However, during the “Action”, the Germans did not spare these Jews. They were taken out of their beds to the “Samelplatz” (gathering place for those to be deported) or else were shot instantly. Sick people who could not rise from their beds were generally shot on the spot during the course of the “Action”.

The first Ukrainians and “Shaulists” (sharpshooters) who claimed victims even before the start of the “Action”, appeared in Piotrkow. A shoemaker at the corner of Jerozolimska and Staro-Warshawska was robbed of his goods by a Ukrainian and then shot by him.[15]

In the second week of October, they started to put the workers of Bugaj and of the city into barracks.[16] Two days before the “Action”, a living area was prepared in the Hortensia factory for the workers who were locked in there. Heartbreaking farewell scenes took place in the evening a mong the families of the 600 workers of the Hortensia and Kara factories.[17] Dietrich and Fischer, the owners of Bugaj, promised to take care of and protect the wives and children of the Jewish workers, but these wives and children were deported during the “Action”.[18]

The tension reached its climax on October 13th. On the night of October 13-14, 1942, (3rd Marcheshvan 5703), the tragic news was spread that the “Action” was to begin on the following day. At 02h00 a.m. the Ukrainians, together with the “navy-blue” police, surrounded the ghetto. In those critical hours, a number of people committed suicide: for instance, Ash, a refugee from Lodz, hung himself. Dr. Leon Glatter tried to kill himself by giving himself a morphine injection, but he was saved; likewise, Mr. and Mrs. Adam Shpielfogel, property owners from Wola Krzysztoporska, tried to poison themselves with luminal, but did not succeed and were attached to the “transport” the next day. The sought-after poison, cyanide, was not to be found in the ghetto, since so many people wanted it. Many of the Jews hid themselves in bunkers.

In the dark hours before dawn, the first shots were heard in the ghetto which was surrounded by the S.S. and the police. The Jewish police were ordered, early in the morning, to drive everyone out of their houses for the roll-call in the gathering place. No one was allowed to remain at home. Bands of Ukrainians patrolled the ghetto and drove everyone out to the section area on Jerozolimska, opposite the Jewish hospital where the remains of the Franciscan barracks, which had been burnt down in 1939 during the war, were still left.

The first victims were taken from the block of streets between Garntsarska and Staro-Warshawska. The Jewish police, under the command of the lawyer, S. Zilberstein, participated in the “Action”, accompanying the deportees to the place of assembly.[19] Those assembled on the square were arranged in four rows: workers, craftsmen, officials, doctors, etc. The men in charge of the “Action”, among them Burgermeister Buss, stood in the middle of the square. The Gestapo divided the people into two columns. The

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right column was led into the “block” to wait for a future selection (these were mainly workers in German firms who carried “good” worker-cards stamped with a swastika), while the left column was destined for the deportation to Treblinka. Thus, many families were broken up: children were torn away from their mothers and wives from their husbands. The cries and screams of the children were silenced by the Germans with a kick from their boots or blows from their whips. Often, parents or children who were qualified for the “right” column went over to the other group in order to go to their deaths together with their families. The children from the orphanage at 27, Pilsudski Street, were deported together with the orphanage staff. Four Jewish women who had just given birth at the Holy Ghost Hospital were deported together with their new-born infants.[20]

The Ukrainians walked between the rows of assembled Jews, emptying their pockets of everything they found in the present of the Gestapo.[21] The “Action” lasted eight days and was completed on Wednesday, October 21st.[22] Five thousand Jews were deported to Treblinka every other day, squeezed into fully packed freight-cars; 150 people in each.[23] Before the Jews entered the cars, they were ordered to remove their clothing and shoes by the Germans.[24]

“The deportation was managed”, writes Jacob Kurtz, “like a wood transport and not like the transport of human beings. On one day the load was prepared, and on the next, the cars were loaded and the train sent away”.

From Suleyow and Przyglow, the people were driven directly into the freight-cars. Old, sick or weakened people were shot on the spot and dead bodies were spread out over the whole route.[25] In all, over 20,000 Jews were deported including many from other places. About 1,000 Jews were shot during the deportation, most of them the old or sick.

The first three transports consisted of Jews who had no special work-cards. When people were lacking to complete the quota for the last transport of Marcheshvan, the owners of the “best” cards were taken from the block, among them members of the Jewish Council (except, understandably, the chairman and his aides: Feiner, Teitelbaum, Braude and others). Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lau, Judge Borenstein and many others were also deported on the last train.[26]

Rabbi Lau, the last rabbi in Piotrkow, gave a fiery sermon just before he was deported on “Kiddush Hashem”, the sanctification of the Holy Name (religious martyrdom of Jews) A witness of the scene later related that he spoke with as much pathos and enthusiasm as he used to do in the good old days, from the pulpit of the synagogue. “Better a living death than a dead life”, said the Rabbi, “and every one who is killed as a Jew is a saint”. He called upon the Jews “ to fulfil the will of God with joy”. He succeeded in raising their spirits and exalting them, although each of them knew that these were the last hours of his life.[26a]

Rabbi Lau, former rabbi of Preshow in Slovakia, refused to acquiesce to the wishes of his students and friends to go to Preshow where they had made arrangements for him before the “Action”, as he did not want to abandon his congregation.

One act of passive resistance is worth mentioning here. During the “Action”, the old religious baker, Yehuda Leib Russak (the Kalisher baker) was lying in bed wrapped in tallis and tefillin when the Ukrainians entered his apartment on October 20th and ordered him to go to the selection area. He answered them that he would not leave his paralyzed wife, and both were immediately shot.[26b]

The 900 workers of Bugaj were kept hidden in the factory shelter under very difficult conditions during the “Action”. On a certain day, a selection was made in the big hall of the factory in the presence of the Gestapo. Dietrich, one of the partners, carried out the selection himself. Those selected for the left side were sent, together with the other deportees to Treblinka.[27]

Even the Jewish workers in the glass factories experienced deadly terror during the “Action”. Rumours were spread, at first, that the Gestapo was going to allow 500 workers to remain out of the 983 presently employed in the two factories. These rumours remained unconfirmed. However, a demand was made to deliver 83 workers. The factory management succeeded in reducing the number to 33, most of them young men, who were delivered into the hands of the murderers.

The Jewish workers in the factories saw for themselves the destruction created in the ghetto during the 8-day “Action”. The second and third trains passed very close to the glass factories at noon. The Jewish workers waited for the transports and as the trains moved slowly by, heartbreaking scenes took place. The screams and tears even touched the hearts of the Christian spectators, who shed tears. The fourth transport passed in the evening, during a heavy rain; however, the Jewish workers waited for the train. Nothing could be seen but horrible screams were heard. Many farewell letters were thrown from the freight cars and were collected by Christian children who delivered them to the Jewish workers.

After the end of the “Action”, about 2,000 “legal” Jews remained in Piotrkow (among them a large number who had escaped or had been expelled from other towns and villages) who were working in German factories, as well as policemen and community officials, together with their families. There were also some privileged workers who were employed by the “Befehlstelle” (German Economic Management). Many Jews were employed, under the supervision of the police, emptying all the Jewish houses outside the block and sorting the confiscated goods prior to shipping them to Germany.

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To the number of “legals” remaining, must be added all those who had hidden themselves away before the deportations. After the “Action”, the “legals” were jammed into the block. Posts were set up with barbed wire on them, encompassing the whole block which was guarded by the Ukrainians. Traffic within the block took place, not through the streets, but through holes in the walls between the yards.

Ukrainian policemen visited the block during the first nights and, at gun-point, robbed money and valuables from the Jews. The inhabitants of the fenced block were taken daily, under police supervision, to the work places near the “Ost Bahnhof”, to Hortensia, Kara and Phoenix glass factories, to the Bugaj workshops and to the “Samelstelle” (collection place) where the remaining possessions and belongings of the deported Jews were gathered.[28]

Besides those employed in the factories and workshops, the small ghetto also contained non-employed “illegals” who came out of their hiding places after the “Action”, as well as others who returned from the Polish side because they couldn't adjust themselves there.[29]These “illegals”, most of them young men, would steal into the block during the night and were often shot while trying to go through the barbed wire. Within a short time, the number of inhabitants of the block grew to 4,000. The German authorities got wind of it and ordered that not more than 2,000 workers were to be allowed in the block.

Not long after the great “Action”, a children's “Action” took place. The Gestapo ordered all the children in the block to be given over. When Mrs. Markowitz refused to give up her nursing baby, the assassins cut off her breast and took her away, together with her baby. After this “Action”, only a few well-hidden children were left.[30]

Each survivor in the ghetto was like a limb without a body. One had lost his parents, another his wife and children and yet another his brothers and sisters. Housing conditions were terrible, with about 20 persons in each room in the block.[31] The collaborators among the Jews continued their dirty work of finding hidden persons, bringing them into the cellar of the Jewish Police and then gathering them into the synagogue.[32] In this summer, 150 “illegals” were on day assembled, sent to Tomashow Mazowietski and from there, transported to Treblinka.[33] Hundreds of people suffered this fat, among them Emmanuel Steinberg who was found together with 12 other persons in their place of concealment.[34]

A series of “Actions” against the “illegals” took place in November-December 1942. They were gathered into the empty synagogue in large groups and brought to the Rakow forest where they were executed. On 11 Kislev 5703, a group of 100, most of them elderly people who had been found during the course of the previous few weeks, were taken out to the forest and shot. The younger people in this group, among them the Rabbi of Radoshitz and his family, had been taken out of the synagogue before the execution and brought to the block.[35] Those sentenced to death were severely oppressed during their stay in the synagogue. The Nazi amused themselves at the expense of the victims by shooting at them through the windows.[36]

On November 25th, Simon Warshawski appealed, by means of posters, to all the “illegals” to come out and register in order to become legalized. In response to the appeal, most of those hidden in the bunkers left them and registered, but on November 30th, an “Action” began against all the newly registered “illegals”(the so-called December “Action”) who were arrested at the gathering place on the Judengasse and brought to the synagogue.

The first night was horrible. The Ukrainians surrounded the building and shot into the synagogue. Among the wounded were the wife and child of Mordechai Hersh Brauner who were shot in front of the synagogue the next morning. New born babies were burnt in front of the synagogue. An eye-witness, Richard Chentzinski, later described the macabre spectacle. A group of Ukrainians, headed by Ober lieutenant Lukner, took eight children out of the synagogue and burnt them in basins on a bonfire in front of the synagogue.[37] The shooting and robbery lasted for a few days.[38]

Conditions in the synagogue were terrible. The people were crowded together without light, without food and without water. Crying of children and old people filled the air. They had to relieve themselves wherever they happened to be.[39]

Only a few individuals were taken out of the synagogue. At first, skilled workers such as carpenters, watchmakers, etc., were released. Later on, others were released on the basis of lists supplied by the managers of factories and workshops. Actually, a barter was taking place with those held in the synagogue. People were released in exchange for others who couldn't afford to ransom themselves.[40] There were, on the other hand, instances of heroism and sacrifice. For instance, Yeshayahu and Tova Weinstock gave themselves up and entered the synagogue to change places with their children and thus save their lives at the price of their own. Mrs. Moshe Niechtzitski refused to be ransomed because she did not want to leave her three children behind and she finally remained in the synagogue with them.[41]

Some people tried to escape from the synagogue. The daughter of Benjamin Liebeskind was the first to make the attempt. She jumped out of a window, fell into the hands of the Ukrainians and was shot. The brother-in-law of Bela Greenblatt-Geliebter managed to get out of a second-story window and stole into the ghetto. There, he took out a large sum of money which he had hidden previously and succeeded in ransoming his wife and child with it.[42] Mrs. Regina Silver, who had succeeded in jumping out of a second-story window and escaping to the block, was discovered, however, and brought back to the synagogue.

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Moshe Wohlreich who had previously escaped from Treblinka, could not escape his fate. He was discovered hiding in the block and was handed over to the Germans[43].

On Saturday, December 19th, at 9:30 a.m., 42 men, including Hersh Gomulinski who had still managed to survive, were taken out of the synagogue and led along the Wolborz road. The Gestapo were waiting for them with a truck and tools. They were given spades and shovels, led into the Rakow forest and ordered to dig five long ditches. The Jews who worked under the strict surveillance of S.S. men William and Pudel, had decided that if the Nazi tried to shoot them, they would kill them and run away. At 3:30, an enforcement of Germans and Ukrainians, led by Ober lieutenant Lukner, arrived on the spot. The Jews refused to obey the command to take off their clothes. Some of them attacked the enemy and a few of them managed to escape. The rest were shot[44].

That night, the Jews in the synagogue were taken out in groups of 50 and led to the Rakow forest. As they left the synagogue(where the people already knew about the newly-dug graves), some of them tried to escape. The Germans opened fire and many were killed and left lying near the synagogue. The Jews marched to Rakow through the darkness, weeping, reciting psalms and saying the “Shema Israel” as they went to their own funerals[45]. 560 Jews were shot in the Rakow forest that night[46]. Those who were only wounded were buried, together with the dead in the mass graves. A tale is told of a certain “Saneh”, a former abattoir worker, who pulled himself out from among the corpses and, half-naked (before they were shot, everyone had to strip naked), reached the home of a pre-war acquaintance of his, the dog-catcher (“Hitzel”) who was a “Volks Deutsch”. This dog-catcher, notwithstanding his previous friendship, gave him over to the Germans. (After the liberation of Piotrkow, the dog-catcher was brought to trial).

There were other instances of people who managed to get out of the mass graves. The Piotrkow historian, Thaddeus Nowakowski, relates that after one of these mass executions in the Rakow forest, one Jew managed to crawl out from under the mountain of corpses and ran wildly through the streets, bloody and half-naked. When he reached the neighbourhood of the hospital, he was caught by the gendarmes who shot him on the spot. These were not the only such cases.

The Germans prepared the Purim 1943 “Action”, which was directed against the “intelligentsia”, with a barrage of lies and propaganda. A truck full of gendarmes approached the ghetto. Rumours were spread that they came in order to “exchange” Jews for German citizens who lived abroad or in Sharona (Palestine). This had happened to Jacob Kurtz and to Rosenthal who had been exchanged in October 1942 and permitted to leave for Palestine. They stressed that, for the time being, only a quota of 10 people, who had to be holders of university diplomas, would be permitted to go to Palestine.

On that day, there was an unusually great amount of movement in the ghetto. The yard of Reder's house at Jerozolimska 12, where the Jewish Council was located, was full of noise and bustle[47]. Those chosen, among them the lawyer, Dr. Stanislaw Zilberstein (the police commander) and his wife, were told to pack and to wait in the yard at a certain time[48]. They were to be brought first to Radom. At the fixed time, they were met by the commander of the Defence police, Ober lieutenant Muschala, with a car. They were driven around the city a few times and when night fell, they were brought to the Jewish cemetery where a deep grave had been dug[49].

S.S. officers and gendarmes armed with machine guns stood at the prepared grave, as did the official Polish representatives of Piotrkow and the district. After listening to the Nazi “speeches”, they all began to enjoy themselves and to get drunk. The Jews were ordered to remove their clothing. Mr. and Mrs. Zilberstein were the first to be shot[50]. At the same time, Dr. Maurice Brahms and his wife, his 16-year- old daughter and his sister-in-law, Mrs. Kogan (widow of Benzion) were killed as well as the young lawyer, Simon Stein and his mother and Dr. Leon Glatter, the psychiatrist[51]. The Jewish watchman of the cemetery and his wife were also included in the brutal bloodshed in order to complete the “minyan” of ten victims who were to symbolically redeem the same of the “Asseret Bnei Haman”(the 10 sons of Haman who were hanged)[52]. Similar bloody spectacles were carried out on the same day, Purim 5703 in other ghettos, in particular, Tschenstochow and Radom.

Not long after the Purim slaughter came another bloody execution which claimed dozens of victims. The authorities had been informed that a group of Jews of the block had succeeded in obtaining “Aryan” documents in preparation for escaping from the ghetto. As a result of this denunciation, the second mass execution (after the Purim “Action”) took place in the cemetery on April 21, 1943.[53]

The policy of the Nazi authorities, at that time, was to collect all the remaining selected Jews in occupied territories into S.S. concentration camps. The small ghetto of Piotrkow was, therefore, doomed to liquidation.

At the beginning of February 1943, 250 people were deported to the ammunition factory in Skarzysko-Kamienna, which the German firm “Hassag” (Hugo Schneider Aktions Gesellschaft) had enlarged. The first transport arrived on February 10th (5th Adar I). A month later, 250 women were brought as well as a few men(among them, the Rabbi of Radoshitz and his family). The situation of the deportees was very difficult because, in the course of the many searches to which they were subjected, every worthwhile object they possessed had been taken away from them. The factory consisted of three sections: section A, the main “Werke”; section B, where the labour conditions

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were most difficult; and section C, whose workers were the most unfortunate for they worked with Tratil and Picrin, materials which coloured their skins yellow and destroyed their internal organs. In the course of time, these deportees succeeded in making contact with others from Piotrkow, with the help of Poles[54].

During the final liquidation of the small ghetto, the remainder of the selected Jews were divided into three groups. The first group was sent to various concentration camps: Blizin (which produced uniforms for the German army and whose inmates suffered from hunger and typhus; Pionki, Ostrowitz, Starachowitze and Radom. The second group went to the Kara-Hortensia work camp where several hundred workers, including a few dozen women, were interned. The third group (about 1,000 workers) were interned on the Bugaj in the “Holzewerke Di-Fi” (plywood factory) under uncomfortable conditions. After the liquidation, a small group of workers were sent to the Bugaj, while some of those who remained outside the above work camps were killed by the Schutz police who had jurisdiction over them. These “Schutz police” murdered dozens of children whose parents had been sent to Blizin, with hand grenades, in a sadistic and barbaric manner[55].

The fate of the children who had joined their parents at Blizin in the first group in June 1943 was no better. In November, 1943 they were the victims of a special children's “Action” at that camp. Mordechai Kaminski, the former sanitary policeman, committed suicide after his two children were taken away from him[56].

On July, 1943 Piotrkow was declared “Judenrein” (free of Jews). After the final liquidation of the ghetto, a sign was put up on the railway station reading: “Petrikau ist Judenrein” (Piotrkow is clean of Jews).

The greatest number of survivors of Piotrkow were concentrated in the “Petrikauer Holzwerke Dietrich und Fischer” (on the Bugaj) where Warshawski worked. A large number of skilled workers and their assistants worked in the mechanical joinery. Housing conditions were worse than in the glass factories, but working conditions were better. The directors of the firm were interested in keeping their factory going in order to avoid active army service at the front, so their efforts at productivity and their attempts to publicize the importance of their work can well be understood. The Jewish workers, however, suffered a great deal and despite the big bribes they gave, the directors used to beat them. Fischer's dog, Ips, often attacked and bit the Jews, while Dietrich once ordered 13 workers shot for coming late to their work shift. These workers were executed on the factory grounds on December 2, 1942 by two gendarmes[57].

The workers in the glass factories (720) Jews, including a few dozen women and children, were accommodated, after the liquidation of the small ghetto, in a four-story house, plus a few barracks, on the left side of Kara. This house and barracks were fenced with a high hedge and with barbed wire. The so-called “Werkeschutz” (work-watch) supervised the block where ten or more people lived in each room. There was about a 300 metre walk from the block to Kara and it was a little further to Hortensia. Some of the factory managers tried to suck the last bit of strength from the Jews by giving them the most exhausting work to do. The Volksdeutsche, Herford, was one of the most intolerable. Even in 1944 when other, smarter Germans were improving their behaviour towards the Jews, he continued to be as oppressive as ever. The head Jew in the block was Solomon Gomberg of Lodz. A Pole, Kutchamer, was director of Hortensia, and he let himself be influenced to act for the good of the working Jews[58]. In September 1943, a transport of 150 men from Kara was sent to Pionki[59].

As the Soviet Army approached the Vistual following its great summer offensive, a few of the camps occupied in Poland were liquidated. In July or August of 1944, the inmates of Blizin were evacuated to Auschwitz. About 3,000 people were evacuated and were soon after put through a “selection”. Old people and small children were immediately sent to the gas chambers. On January 18, 1945, on the eve of the liberation of Auschwitz, the camp's inmates were evacuated to Matthausen and Guzen. Guzen was liberated on May 5, 1945. Part of those imprisoned in Birkenau-Auschwitz were sent to the Lipstadt ammunition factory[60].

The Jews working in the two glass factories and the Bugaj plant were transferred on November 26, 1944[61]. At the Herby train station, the Jews to be transported were divided into two sections: one group was sent to Tschenstochow and the other to the concentration camps of Germany. The men and boys of the second group were sent to Buchenwald while the women and girls went to Ravensbrück. The group deported to Ravensbrück spent 4 ½ days on the way. They arrived at their destination on December 2 and the children among them were treated in an inhuman manner there[62]. One group of women from Ravensbrück was transferred to the Bergen-Belsen extermination camp. On April 15, 1945 Bergen-Belsen and Ravensbrück were liberated and the surviving women were sent, due to the intervention of Count Bernadotte, to Sweden. Individual women from Piotrkow survived in some of the other camps, among them Auschwitz.[63]

Upon its arrival in Tschenstochow, the Piotrkow transport was divided into groups which were sent to Warta (a weapon factory equipped with machines transferred from Skarzysko), Rakow, Pelcery and Tschenstochowianka. According to eye-witnesses, the conditions in these camps were worse than in Skarszysko. The law of the jungle ruled: the people, who were under the constant surveillance of Kapos armed with sticks and whips, lost faith in any other means but their fists as a means of survival. In December, a transport composed mainly of

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Piotrkow youths was sent to Germany from Tschenstochow. This transport was sent to Buchenwald and from there to the Dora concentration camp. The final destination of the transport was the Nordhausen extermination camp. This camp was heavily bombed on April 3rd and 4th, during which 90% of the prisoners were killed. On the eve of the arrival of the Soviet armies, two large transports left Tschenstochow for Buchenwald (January 15th and 16th, 1945). They didn't manage to send out one small group of workers, among them about 20 Jews from Piotrkow, so they survived until the arrival of the Soviets on January 17th.[64]

On their arrival in Buchenwald, the people in the transport found conditions entirely different in this camp where most of the inmates were political prisoners. Internal management lay, for the most part, in the hands of Communist political prisoners under the leadership of Dr. Herzog, former deputy to Parliament. The general situation of the prisoners was, therefore, somewhat better[65]. Children and young people were in a special block and got better food.[66] Among the many Piotrkow Jews who died of hunger at Buchenwald were the well-known Dr. Leon Weinzieher, former director of the Jewish Hospital in Piotrkow (who had been on the Bugaj previously) and Reb Mordechai Znamirowski, a renowned Talmudic scholar.[66a]

At that time, a “punishment column” operated among the prisoners at Buchenwald, headed by Jewish ”Block captain 66”Gustav. This “punishment column” (also called the “revenge column”) carried out death sentences against Jewish collaborators as well as against renegades of other nationalities. As soon as the Piotrkow contingent arrived in Buchenwald, they were asked by the “punishment court” to name those among them who had behaved badly. Those named were tried; the death sentence was carried out against two brothers, Eliahu and Abraham Rosenberg of Sulejow, members of the Jewish Police.[67]

Only a few Piotrkow Jews who had been transported to Buchenwald in November were still there on January 15th and 16th, when the second group from Piotrkow arrived. Most of them had been sent to Schlieben and Plassberg, to the Panzer tank factories. On the 21st of April, the inmates of these camps were brought, under the most horrible conditions, to Theresienstadt. Most of them died on the way though a few managed to break open the doors of the freight cars and run away.[68] Many people of the January transport were sent to the Dora camp whose administrators had been recruited from among known sadists.[69]

Buchenwald and its branches were liberated on April 11th, and a group of boys from Piotrkow were found there, still alive. After the war, they were sent to France and from there to Palestine. The Theresienstadt camp was liberated on May 8th, and there too, were found some boys from Piotrkow who had formerly been evacuated from Buchenwald. They were sent to England after the liberation.

The greatest number of Piotrkow Jews who survived the Holocaust were in Bergen-Belsen. Survivors from other camps came there later[70]. After the liberation, about a hundred Jews who had remained hidden gathered together in Piotrkow. The liberation, unfortunately, did not put an end to the lawless taking of Jewish lives. One evening, three Jews, Miss Usherowitz, Mrs. Rolnik and a young man named Maltz were shot to death by Poles. This happened on the same day that Miss Usherowitz had sold her father's house for a substantial sum (about 600 zloty)[71].

A short time after the capitulation of Germany, some of the Jewish survivors from the German camps returned to Piotrkow. Only a very few returned to their destroyed homes; the remainder stayed in German D.P. camps, waiting for the possibility of emigrating to Palestine or to other countries. A group of Piotrkow Jews from the Fehrenwald camp went to Palestine with Aliya B. In 1946, there were about 400 Piotrkow Jews in the D.P. camps. Up to the end of that year, about 600 Jews had registered with the Jewish Committee in Piotrkow, many of them from other places. Most of the survivors did not remain, but emigrated out of Poland. In December, 1948, only 150 Jews remained in Piotrkow, most of them physically and mentally broken[72].


The destruction of the Jewish community of Piotrkow was almost complete. One of the oldest Jewish communities in Poland had been destroyed. The small Jewish villages in the surrounding areas were also demolished, together with Jewish lives, synagogues, Batei Midrash and even cemeteries. The great synagogue of Piotrkow, which had been completely renovated before the war by the painter, Willenberg, and the Beit Hamidrash were in ruins, lacking floors, doors or windows. The cemetery was also completely demolished. The granite or marble tombstones had been destroyed, a few thousand others had been broken up and used to repair roads, while a few hundred had previously been removed from the graves so that the Germans were unable to take them away.

Hand-in-hand, with the physical destruction of the Jews, went, almost in every case, the destruction of their homes, with the exception of houses which could be used by the Aryans[73].

Except for the cemetery where there are some 18th Century tombstones, and the great fortress-like synagogue which had been erected in 1791 and which was renovated after the war by a handful of Jews who were still in Piotrkow, there are no other signs of this historical and famous Jewish community[74].


  1. Dr. Tenenbaum, op. cit., Kurtz, op. Cit. Return
  2. M. Greenstein, Testimony, Yad Vashem Archive. Comp. Blachman, op. cit. Return
  3. Dr. Tenenbaum, op. cit., Kurtz, op. Cit. Return
  4. Dr. Tenenbaum, op. Cit. Return
  5. Jacob Kurtz, Testimony. Return
  6. Dr. Tenenbaum, op. Cit., Blachman, op. Cit., Kurtz, op. Cit., Return
  7. Sendowski, Hersh, “Destruction of Piotrkow Trybunalski”, Yiddishe Zeitung n°43/55 (25.10.46), p.5. Return
  8. Historical Questionnaire N°2144/502, Yad Vashem Archive, Munich collection, Comp. Sendowski, op. cit. Return
  9. Dr. Tenenbaum, op. cit. Return
  10. Greenstein, Testimony, op. cit. Return
  11. Dr. Tenenbaum, op. cit.,Kurtz, op. Cit., Greenstein, Testimony, op. Cit. Return
  12. Greenstein Testimony, op. cit., Kurtz, op. cit. Those who possessed Aryan papers travelled to Warsaw, though it was difficult to get out of the ghetto. Dr. Tenenbaum, op. cit., neighbours built bunkers cooperatively, for instance the, Niechtzitski brothers, the inhabitants of Staro-Warshawska 13, the Sierdski, Windheim, Weinrib, Vincentowski and Weinstock families, built a bunker in which about 100 people hid (Moshe Niechtzitski, op. cit.,) Dozens of Jews were hidden in a bunker behind the grocery of the Dali family (at the corner of Platz Trybunalski and Lazienna-Mokra Street), but the bunker was later discovered (Galili, “The Story of a Hero”). A bunker in which 18 persons hid, including the wife and child of Isaac Blaustein, was constructed at Staro-Warshawska 8. It was created between a double wall and was entered by way of the roof. (Ch. Rosenblum-Blaustein, Testimony). Return
  13. Sendowski, op. cit., Kurtz, op. cit. Return
  14. Dr. Tenenbaum, op. cit.,Kurtz, op. Cit. Before the “Aussiedlung” of the Rosprza Jews to Piotrkow, about 20 families were expelled from Gieski to Rosprza, among them the 103-year-old well-known woman farmer, Mrs. Chaya Friedel Brigel (letter of J. Maltz to Yad Vashem, December 29, 1957). Return
  15. Dr. Tenenbaum, op. cit., Kurtz, op. Cit. Return
  16. Kotkowski, op. Cit. Return
  17. Kurtz, op. Cit. Return
  18. Winter, “Destruction of Piotrkow”. Return
  19. M. Greenstein, Testimony. Comp. Dr. Tenenbaum, op. cit., A. Winter, op. Cit., also Kotkowski, op. cit., speech of Moshe Kimmelman, op. cit. Return
  20. Dr. Tenenbaum, op. cit., Kurtz, op. Cit., comp. Ben-Giladi, op, cit., Sendowski, op. cit. Upon his arrival in Tel-Aviv, J. Kurtz gave testimony confirming that the “Action” was headed by Commissar Foig who came to Piotrkow with a group of six or seven storm-troopers especially for the purpose. Abraham Goldschmidt, a Jewish policeman, threw away his police hat and voluntarily entered the freight car which carried his parents, among others, to Treblinka (Mina Hershkowitz-Wolkowitz, “Destruction of Piotrkow”, “Canada Adler” (Canadian Eagle), October 21, 1956). Return
  21. Kurtz, op. cit. Return
  22. Ben-Giladi, op. cit. Return
  23. Ibid., see also Esther Hipsher-Kaminska, Testimony, Yad Vashem Archive. Return
  24. “The Account of the Jewish Congregation in Piotrkow” Dudek Levkowitz, “A Piotrkowan in Treblinka” (Polish), Yad Vashem Archive; comp. Zelman, op. cit. Return
  25. Kurtz, op. cit., Joseph Freeman, testimony, op. cit. The Jews from Suleyow, Przyglow and Rosprza were also sent with the 3rd transport, while those from Gorshkowitz and Kaminsk were sent with the last transport (Sendowski, op. cit). Return
  26. Abraham Tushiner estimated the number of deportees at 22,000, Greenbaum at 17,000 and S. Pudlowski at 24,000. The most reliable figures, however, seem to be those of Kurtz who writes that 20,000 Jews were driven out in the four transports. In his testimony (op. cit), Kurtz estimated the total number of deportees at more than 22,000 Jews (Yad Vashem Archive, Joseph Perelman's Testimony). Return
    1. Greenstein, Testimony, op. cit. In the dark days before the “Action”, the shochet (ritual slaughterer) Reb Yedidye displayed great faith and went around the ghetto encouraging the people. (Dr. Tenenbaum, op.cit). Return
    2. Greenstein, op.cit., Dr. Tenenbaum, op. Cit., Yehezkiel Rositzki, “Upon the Sanctification of the Holy Name” (So perished the old Kalisher baker): “Memorial Book to our City, Piotrkow Trybunalski and Vicinity”, contents, p.21. Return
  27. Ben-Giladi, op. cit., letter of J. Galili to Yad Vashem. 22.5.58. Return
  28. Dr; M. Lubliner, Testimony; Zelman and Blachman, op. cit., comp. Kurtz, op. cit; also “Historical Questionnaires” of S. Greenbaum. H. Biezuner and Abraham Tushiner; comp. also M. Migus, “The First Arrest” and Ch. Samelson, “The Revolt Which was not Carried out”. Return
  29. Blachman, Testimony, op.cit. Return
  30. Winter, op. cit., Zelman, op. Cit; Arluck, op. cit., comp. S. Pudlowski, “The Fate of the Jews in Piotrkow”, “Dos Neue Leben”, N°14 (11.12.45). Another version says that 2,000 Jews remained officially among them 160 women and children, all of them in barracks or blocks. Return
  31. Ben-Giladi, op. cit. Return
  32. Kotkowski, op. cit., comp. Ben-Giladi, op. cit. Return
  33. Blachman. Testimony, op. cit., comp. Ben Giladi, op. cit., Dr. Tenenbaum, op. Cit., Dr. Shantser and his wife (converts to Christianity) were transported to Tomashow; Sendowski, op. cit. Return
  34. Declaration of Israel Zigreich. Return
  35. Testimonies of Niechtzitski and Blachman, op. cit. Return
  36. Winter, op. cit. Return
  37. Zeev Blachman, “The Resistance of the 42 in Rakow”. Comp. testimonies of Niechtzitski and Chaya Rosenblum-Blaustein, Yad Vashem Archive; Richard Chentzinski, Testimony, Yad Vashem Archive, Munich Coll. N°367/287. Return
  38. Niechtzitski, Testimony, op. cit., comp. testimonies of Paula Berkowitz, op. cit., and Blachman, op. cit., also the descriptions by Hersh Gomulinski, op. cit and Dr. Tenenbaum, op. cit. Return
  39. Blachman, op. cit., comp. with the description of Gomulinski, op. cit., who was taken to the synagogue together with his wife and children. Niechtzitski states that Rosenberg, the sanitary policeman, would take food to those imprisoned in the synagogue. Return
  40. Niechtzitski, op. cit., Zelman, op. Cit. Return
  41. Berkowitz, op. Cit., Niechtzitski, op. Cit. Return
  42. Bela Greenblatt-Geliebter, op. Cit., Niechtzitski, op. cit., Berkowitz, op. Cit. Return
  43. Declaration of Moshe Horowitz ; Dr. Tenenbaum, op. cit., Niechtzitski, op. cit. Return
  44. Blachman, op. cit., also his testimony. Comp. manuscript of Hersh Gomulinski. Among those saved, besides Hersh Gomulinski who was wounded in his right arm and lost consciousness, were: Yechiel Gomulinski (now in Israel), Weingarten, Holtz (these two were later in the Blizin camp) and Cymberg. See also the testimony of H. Gomulinski taken down in the protocol at Munich on November 20, 1946, Yad Vashem Archive, Munich Collection, 608/594; Zelman, op. cit. Return
  45. Blachman, op. cit., comp. Berkowitz, Testimony, op. cit., Among those condemned to be shot were the wife and three children of M. Niechtzitski, his youngest brother's wife (Niechtzitski, testimony) and the parents-in-law of Chaya Rosenblum-Blaustein (Rosenblum-Blaustein, Testimony). Return
[Page 346]
  1. Pudlowski, op. cit., comp. Ben-Giladi, op. cit. and Gomulinski, op. cit. Blachman and Rosenblum-Blaustein report that 542 persons perished in the December “Action”. The exhumation of the 700 Jews murdered at Rakow began two weeks before Rosh Hashana 5707 (1946) and continued until Hoshana Raba. Thirty-two German prisoners were brought from the Piotrkow prison and they opened the pits, exhumed the bones of the murdered Jews and put them into 10 long chests which were then buried at the entrance of the cemetery. The Piotrkow Jewish Congregation carried out this holy work which was directed by the two Hipsher brothers. Pinchas Hipsher was in charge of the work at the cemetery. He brought over the chests containing the bones of the dead and buried them. Yeshaya Hipsher, a former member of the Chevra Kadisha (Jewish Buriel Society) dealt, with great devotion, with the task of digging out the bodies. A wall was erected around the mass grave by A. Horowitz. Hershkowitz-Wolkowitz, op. cit., comp. “From the Rakow Forest to the Grave of Brothers” in the Memorial Book to Our City, Piotrkow Trybunalski and Vicinity. Pp. 8-9. Return
  2. Lubliner Testimony, op.cit., Blachman, Testimony, op. cit. Return
  3. Blachman, op. cit. Return
  4. Richard Chentzinski, op. cit. Return
  5. Testimonies of Lubliner, op. cit., Chentzinski, op. cit., and Blachman, op. cit. Return
  6. See also Tushiner, “Historical Questionnaire”, Dr. Brahms' daughter ran away from the grave but the Gestapo forced her father to catch her and bring her back. Dr. Tenenbaum, op. cit. (Another version is that the Gestapo chased her among the tombstones until they caught her). Return
  7. Dr. Lubliner, op. cit. Return
  8. Among those shot was: the lawyer, Skolnik; Litrowski, Yungster; Aba Brem; Lena Goldach, the tinsmith Greenspan and his daughter; and Papier (of the Litmanowitz family). Comp memoirs of Shraga Posnanski, op.cit. Return
  9. Niechtzitski, op. cit., comp. Greenbaum, “Historical Questionnaire”, op. cit. and Ben-Giladi, op. cit. Return
  10. M. Migus, “The First Arrest”, op. cit., Rosenblum-Blaustein, op. cit., Blachman, op. cit., Gen-Giladi, op. cit., Dr. Tenenbaum, op. cit., also Tushiner, Historical Questionnaire, op.cit., Dr. Tenenbaum estimates the number of those who remained on the Bugaj at 1,700, those who worked in the glass factories at 700 and the number of deportees to other camps at 700. Blachman, on the other hand, sets the number of deportees at 500. Among those deported to Skarzysko were a large number of men and a few women who had been working at the “Samelstelle”, gathering up the belongings of the deported Jews; Blachman, op. cit. Return
  11. Esther Kaminska-Hipsher, in her testimony, estimated that 40 children had been killed in the “Action” at Blyzin. On the other hand, Mrs. Stashewska, whose own little boy was killed in the “Action”, gave the number as 12 in her testimony. Return
  12. Dr. Tenenbaum, op. cit., Zelman, op. cit; Ben-Giladi, op. Cit., comp. Rosenblum-Blaustein, op. cit. Galili gives a description of the execution of the thirteen in his “Thirteen among Many” and in a letter to Yad Vashem (22.5.58). It should be added that Dietrich was tried before the criminal court in Hamburg for his criminal activities in Piotrkow during the war years. Details of Dietrich's execution was given in the testimonies of Mordechai Goldhersh, Yechiel Kurnentz and Aaron Hipsher before the Tel-Aviv District Court on 19.3.56. These witnesses remembered “only a few names of the murdered men”: Kenigstein, Ziegelman, Blumstein, Abramowitz, Kimmelman and Tornberg. Return
  13. M. Migus, “The First Arrest”, op. cit., Kotkowski, op. cit., Ben-Giladi, op. cit., Poznanski, op. cit., Zilber and his family were shot later by Police Commander Elshner, the former pastor; Kotkowski, op. cit., Poznanski, “Memoirs”, op. cit. Return
  14. Dr. Tenenbaum, op. cit., Joseph Freeman, Testimony, op. cit. Return
  15. Blachman, op. cit., Stashewski, op. cit., Arluck, op. cit. Return
  16. Kotkowski, op. cit. As early as June 1944, one hundred Jews among them 6 women, were deported from the Bugaj to Tropau (Sudeten). At the end of November, the women were sent to Bergen-Belsen, while the men were evacuated to Hamburg where they were drowned in the port (Sendowski, op. cit). Return
  17. Rosenblum-Blaustein, op. cit. Return
  18. Ben-Giladi, op. cit. Return
  19. Ben-Giladi, op. cit., Niechtzitski, op. cit., Dr. Tenenbaum, op. cit., also M. Migus, op. cit. Return
  20. Posnanski, Testimony, op. cit. Return
  21. Ben-Giladi, op. cit. Return
    1. Dr. Tenenbaum, op. cit. Greenbaum, “Historical Questionnaire”, op. cit Return
  22. M. Niechtzitski, op. cit., S. Posnanski, op. Cit., Ben-Giladi, op. cit., comp. also Israel Gutterman, Testimony. Return
  23. S. Pudlowski, op. cit. Return
  24. Ben-Giladi, op. cit. Return
  25. Ibid. Return
  26. Niechtzitski, op. cit., M. Niechtzitski. Eliahu Milstein and Moshe Feiner were in the group which went to Palestine. Return
  27. “Account of the Jewish Congregation in Piotrkow”, op. cit., S. Greenbaum in his “Historical Questionnaire” op. cit., estimates the number of survivors at 1,000 of which three to four hundred were camp prisoners while 600 had saved themselves in other ways. Return
  28. “Account of the Jewish Congregation in Piotrkow”, op. cit., Comp. with Dr. Tenenbaum, op. cit. Return
  29. The returned Jews celebrated the inauguration of the reconstructed synagogue on Jerozolimska Street with great festivity. However, the journalist, S.L. Shneiderman, who visited Piotrkow “Forward”, February 27, 1958) reported that for the two years preceding his visit, the synagogue had not even been opened for High Holy Day services because there were not enough Jews in the town interested in attending to make a “minyan” (the ten Jews necessary for public religious services), though there were 15 Jewish families in Pietrkow. Unlike synagogues in other towns and villages which were turned into granaries or movie theatres, however, the Piotrkow synagogue is regarded as a historical monument, at least for the time being. Return

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