Chronicle of the Destruction of Szydlowiec
by Isaac Milstein
In memory of my dear, precious parents Mordechai Menahem ben Z'vi Yehuda and Rachel bas Nachman, my brothers and sisters, their wives and husbands and children, the entire family, as well as the memory of all the martyrs of our town Szydlowiec, I have here related in the form of a diary the terrible moments of the murder of all the Jews who had lived there for generations before the Destruction.
I do not know whether I was simply lucky or whether Providence spared me so that I could tell and write about the unspeakable crimes committed by the Nazi murderers and their willing assistants.
With my own eyes I saw the Jews of our shtetl, our own dear families, from the youngest to the oldest, being driven to the deaths. Their weeping must have risen all the way to heaven.
At the Szydlowiec railroad station they were all packed into freight-cars, a hundred people to a car. The weather was frightfully hot. In these cars they were taken to the death camp at Treblinka, where they all perished.
Their last wish was: Should anyone survive this vast Jewish destruction, let him fulfill our last will and testament: that the horrible cruelties committed in our home-town by the Nazi hordes and their partners be recorded for future generations. What follows here is therefore not an ordinary diary, but a history written in blood and tears.
Friday, Sept. 1, 1939
Early in the morning the radio brought us the dreadful news: the Germans had crossed the Polish border. In Szydlowiec everything was still going on as if it were an ordinary Friday, but at noon we already saw the steel birds whose bombs had wrecked the railroad station.
Prices on everything were immediately frozen. The first thing we ran short of was bread. Lines formed at once, but life proceeded in an orderly fashion.
People began streaming in from nearby Skarzyak; they were afraid their town would be heavily bombed because of the munitions factories there. We made room for the refugees and helped them in whatever way we could.
As the new week began, soldiers from Radom filled the streets of Szydlowiec.
Monday, Sept. 4, 1939
Another air raid. Again the target was the railroad station, but this time something unexpected happened. In the forest near the station, Polish artillery units opened fire on the German planes. One plane crashed near the hills on the outskirts of town. People rushed to the spot, but the Polish police got there first and captured the two Nazi flyers, one of whom was wounded.
Wednesday, Sept. 6, 1939
People are running away in droves, civilians and soldiers alike. Polish police stopped one man who looked suspicious he had no passport, he spoke neither Polish nor Yiddish. After
a brief investigation they took him outside the city and shot him.
Among the Polish soldiers was Bunem Blander, one of our own Szydlowiecrs. We tried to persuade him to stay, but he wouldn't hear of it, and left.
We could tell the front line was moving closer by the masses of people who kept streaming through our town from the direction of Radom. The Polish troops assembled at the church. Large empty buses filled up with armed soldiers and headed toward Pshyskhe -- transports for the front.
This situation continued until Thursday the 7th. During the night they woke us up to drive the cows over to the Polish army bases. Those were nightmarish hours anyway who could sleep?
Friday, Sept. 8, 1939
Panic. People simply ran, without knowing where they were running to. Many ran to the Radom road, some to the Kielce road. The former had some hope of returning; the latter were running straight into the arms of the enemy.
Szydlowiec was abandoned. You couldn't even see a Polish policeman. Friday night no one slept. People who had lived through the First World War advised us to hide in the cellars. That night there was a tremendous duel between the Polish artillery on the Radom road and the German artillery on the Kielce road. We spent that night in Jacob Shimon Weisbrot's cellar. He instructed us how to hide, because during World War I he had hid in the same cellar. At dawn the shooting stopped and we went back to our own homes.
Saturday, Sept. 9, 1939
Szydlowiec is quiet, calm, as though nothing had happened. Those who fled along the Radom road all returned;
there was no longer anywhere for them to run. Those who fled toward Kielce ran right into the Germans.
The calmness lasted, however, only until ten o'clock that morning, when a German tank unit roared into tow, followed by soldiers on motorcycles. They burst in with such impetus that it seemed they had come to swallow us all up. But they didn't bother anyone. They only looked around and then rode over to the city all. They immediately appointed a commandant and a few administrators. They then turned their attention to the Polish war-prisoners, of whom there were many. They took them all to the brewery outside the city, where they set up a camp. (The German troops were camped nearby.) Among those war prisoners were a good number of Jews. The Jewish community in Szydlowiec was very concerned; the most important thing now was to get them out of that camp. Whenever one of them showed up in town on a work detail, he was quickly provided with civilian clothing, so he could get away. At that time it was still possible to do that, because the security was not very tight. When the war prisoners were finally moved from Szydlowiec, there wasn't one Jew among them. I remember that during that campaign I gave away my brother's last suit of painter's work clothes.
The Jews who had run toward Kielce were held in a temporary camp for several weeks, together with the non-Jews. They suffered quite a bit there, but then were released.
The first order of the Germans was: A state of war exists. Curfew: six p.m. For almost every violation of these regulations, the death penalty.
On the third day after the Germans entered the city a peasant driving a load of hay stopped outside our house. From underneath the hay we heard a cry for help Yiddish. It was a wounded Jewish soldier. Nurse Rifka Zucker was called
and gave him first aid. Two days later, dressed in civilian clothes, he went back to his own shtetl.
Most of the German soldiers were older men and we managed to get along with them. They sold their tobacco ration very cheaply to the young boys in town.
Our first Yom Kippur under the Nazis was a very bitter one. A fire broke out in the synagogue. The Germans forced the Jews to put out the blaze. It was obvious that the Germans had set the fire themselves.
As long as the war against the Polish army went on, we managed somehow, because the Germans were busy with that. During that period we even did some work and some business. Merchants could still travel to Lodz on Notele Greenberg's truck. Of course, things didn't always go smoothly. On one occasion, when the loaded truck was ready to start back from Lodz, a gang of Folksdeutschen stole the truck. The Jews came home empty-handed. Our people went straight to the commandant, who happened to be a decent man, and with the help of a young woman they succeeded in retrieving all the merchandise as well as the truck.
When the Germans finished with the Polish army they started on the Jews. Every day there was a new decree.
After Warsaw fell we began trading with the Jews there by auto, by horse-and-wagon, by train (which was the most risky). We smuggled provisions into Warsaw and brought back various goods. I too took to the road and brought my family in Warsaw whatever I could. I met there with my mother's brother Boruch. His mother my grandmother Gitl begged him to come to Szydlowiec, but he didn't want to leave Warsaw.
One day I gambled and took the train, which was verboten to Jews. Two Jewish women and I were waiting for the next train. A young Polish boy recognized them and began pushing
the two women toward a German guard who stood at the passageway to the train. Fortunately for us, this boy couldn't speak a word of German, and the guard, noticing how roughly the boy was treating the women, whacked him over the head and gave him a lecture on how a gentleman should behave toward ladies. So for the time being, we were safe.
On one of my trips I was stopped at the Biolobrzeg bridge by a German guard. He took my documents and started marching me to the local commandant, who was notorious for his brutality. With the guard pointing his rifle at my back, I was marching straight ahead. When a very pretty woman came into view, the guard ordered me to halt. I was afraid to turn around. He and the woman talked for a while. Then he called me over, handed me my papers, and said I should be grateful to this woman that I wasn't going to end up in the hands of the commandant. He told me to cross the bridge and disappear.
That winter was an unusually cold one with severe snowstorms. Our commandant ordered the Judenrat to provide a labor force to clean the snow from the main roads in the area. Another labor force was assigned to dig up the bodies of Polish soldiers who had been buried where they had fallen in battle and take them to Christian cemeteries. These bodies had been in the earth for almost a year and the work was very unpleasant.
The Jewish soldiers who had been captured by the Germans were released. Among them I remember: Notte Broitman, Pinye Zeidenfeld, Vigdor Kaufman, Joseph Ronchke, Yankl Milstein (my cousin), Michal Dimont, Isaac Greenberg, and Velve Vester (he was critically ill). Of those, only Notte Broitman and my cousin are still living. Shmuel Lachs was the only one who made his way to Anderson's army and reached Eretz Israel. Of the Szydlowiecrs who fell on the front I remember: Joseph Toyter (my schoolmate, he was the son of Notte and Dasse); Yerakhmiel Erlich (son of Jonah and Ethel),
Yankele Radolnick (son of Israel and Leah), and Moishele Chustetsky.
That winter the Judenrat opened a public soup kitchen in the home of Yeshaya Opatowski. It was meant primarily for the hundreds of poor refugees, but also for the local needy. Isaac Shteinman gave a great deal of time and effort to this soup kitchen.
The terrible situation we were in, with all its dangers, led to organized efforts by the young people to escape to the Russian side. At first it was mainly young couples. Those who had been planning to get married now did so. There was a continuous round of weddings. The only thing the newlyweds needed for the journey was a backpack and a watch. They didn't even have to go to the rabbi, because Shmuel Aaron the shammes was issuing the marriage certificates. We called this the backpack season.
My brother Avrom Chaim and his friend Avrom Wahlberg married the Brandmesser sisters and went to the Russian border. Avrom Chaim didn't want to worry my mother, so he kept it a secret. She wouldn't have let him go. My brother and his wife both perished there.
Every day new German decrees. They shut off the electricity in Jewish homes, they confiscated all garments with fur on them, they ordered Jews to cut their beards; they forbade shechita (kosher slaughtering of animals). Breaking any of these regulations was punishable by death. Jewish butchers risked their lives and slaughtered the animals in secret, until they were betrayed by an informer.
Purim came and went, but there was no new miracle to save us from the worst Haman in our history. Pesach arrived and we observed it as best we could. I don't think anyone had to go without matzo.
The Jewish tanners had started work again. Since only the tanneries of Notte and Shmerl Eisenberg are functioning
Legally (under supervision of a German), a shortage of leather has developed. Those who are able to do so have resumed their work despite the risk to their lives. Aside from being dangerous it has presented them with many technical difficulties, such as setting up[ a primitive shop to treat the leather chemically. My brother Yisrolke and Yeshaya Henig set up such a little factory in the home of a peasant in the village of Smilew. (They paid him well for it.) The shop consisted of two large kettles in which they prepared the leather (during the night, of course). I even helped them for a few nights. It was hard work. They operated their business until one night the police burst in, led by Mandel, head of the German Price Control Office. They loaded the stuff on a big farm wagon and carted everything off to the city hall, including the manufacturers themselves.
It could have ended very tragically right then and there, but fortunately the Judenrat had a good relationship with the commandant. They tried to convince him to drop the matter. Meanwhile, Yeshaya Henig's mother came running in to our house all upset:
Our children are in danger! We must save them! I still have a piece of jewelry left! We must do something!
All of us went to the city hall. It didn't take very long. The two prisoners were released. I don't know how the Judenrat did it, because my parents and Yeshaya's mother had brought along money and jewelry, but they didn't have to use it.
During this period a strange thing happened in Szydlowiec which is worth recording. Actually it started a few years before the war, when a circus came to town. It was a circus like all other circuses, with various attractions such as fire-eaters, acrobats, trapeze artists, etc. They also had a fortune-teller they called him a medium. His partner in the act was a woman whom he asked questions which she always answered correctly. In the audience was a young Jewish
woman. She and the medium met after the show. They fell in love. No one knows how far the affair went, but when the circus left Szydlowiec, we forgot all about it.
But a few weeks after the war broke out, the same circus artist showed up in our town as a big-shot among the Germans. It turned out that before the war he had been a German spy and the circus was his cover. He was now on crutches with a wounded leg. He immediately looked up his Jewish sweetheart and again they spent a lot of time together. In order to change her identity into a Folksdeutsch he asked her mother to swear that her daughter was born during the First World War and that her real father was a German.
To provide his sweetheart with some kind of livelihood, he confiscated Pinchas Rosenberg's newspaper kiosk and turned it over to her. She sold German newspapers such as Der Sturmer and Der Voelkischer Beobachter , as well as Polish newspapers that were published by the German occupation authorities. She looked like a real Aryan, with her blue eyes, blond hair and straight nose. She even wore a medallion with a swastika.
Exactly how long this went on I don't remember, but when I was in the camp at Janiszew, my mother went to her for help in getting me released. Other mothers from Szydlowiec did the same thing. But how could she help anyone when she herself was helpless. With her Aryan looks, if she had left Szydlowiec and gone somewhere where no one knew her, she would have had a good chance of surviving the war. But she stayed and the story has a tragic ending.
There came a day when the Gestapo drove up top her kiosk and took her away. They didn't even allow her to say goodbye to her parents.
That was the last we heard of her.
Tuesday, August 20, 1940
Early in August, 1940 a rumor spread that Germans from
the Lublin District were coming to Szydlowiec on August 20th to round up unmarried Jews for labor camps. So there have been a lot of weddings recently.
As promised, on Tuesday, August 10th the German trucks drove in from Lublin and went directly to the Judenrat. There had already been a decree ordering all able-bodied unmarried men to report at 8 a.m. at the newly built nail factory. Everyone had to bring his necessities with him because the men selected would have to leave immediately. Anyone failing to report to the gathering place his father would be taken instead. No one wanted to endanger his own father, so many young men reported my brother Yisrolke and I among them. Whoever had a Judenrat document showing that he was the sole breadwinner in his family was exempted.
Precisely at 8 o'clock the commission began its work. The doctor examined everyone but rejected hardly anyone. Then we were loaded into the trucks without even an opportunity to say goodbye to our families.
By evening we had reached the camp near the town of Juzefow. The camp commandant, an S.S.-man, came out to meet us. He counted heads and sent half of us to Janiszew on farm wagons. The other half stayed in the camp at Juzefow. My brother and I were in the Janiszew group.
It was midnight before we arrived at the camp. The commandant an Austrian German named Schmidt greeted us more humanly than his colleague at Juzefow. They had set up a barrack for Szydlowiecrs only. We found a place to sleep. In the morning we saw that we were in a camp consisting of several barracks. There were no farmhouses in view. To get to the neighboring town of Zawichost you had to cross the Vistula River by boat or ferry.
They gave us each a little bit of black coffee and then divided us into groups. Each group had a leader who was responsible for getting the work done and for feeding his men.
(Meals consisted of a slice of bread, soup ad coffee.) The work was very hard. The group leaders were Poles the guards were Ukrainians and Folksdeutschen (Ethnic Germans). They supervised us with an iron fist. The worst one was Warechawski, a Folksdeutsch.
Our job was to make sure that the Vistula would not overflow its banks in the spring. We built a great wall of earth that stretched for miles along the bank.
It was possible to get along with Commandant Schmidt. In exchange for money or valuable objects he excused people from work or even released them. In this way my brother and Yeshaya Henig went home. I wanted to follow their example, but missed my chance our good commandant was replaced by a German named Grimeisen who introduced a strict regime. At one roll call he selected men whose looks he didn't like and sent them to the camp at Belzec, near the Russian border. Among them were Peretz Orenbach, Ben Zion Milstein (my cousin), Yeshaya Mendl Eisenberg, and many others. All of them were released from Belzec in December, except Yeshaya Mendl, who was shot.
Yeshaya Mendl was practically helpless. All his life he had done nothing but study Torah. We were fellow students at the Talmud Torah and at Yerakhmiel Meir's heder. In the camp they gave him an easy job sweeping the yard. When his uncle, David Neiberg, an official in the Judenrat, came to get him released from Janiszew, he was no longer there.
The camp had a canteen where you could buy bread, marmalade and other things. It was run by a woman named Weinstock from Apola. All you needed was the money.
In September the nights grew cooler. We started thinking about escaping, because the winter here would be unbearable. One day, right after Motl Bergman ladled out the soup we discovered that two of our group were missing Yankele Kishkat (he was called that because his father supplied the
wurst manufacturer with kishkes) and Eliash (Rifka Kriss's brother-in-law). Unfortunately they didn't know the way to the Vistula. They got lost and ended up in a place not far from Janiszew. The guards brought Eliash back, but they shot Yankele.
With the help of the Judenrat, the parents of Yankele and Yeshaya Mendl Eisenberg obtained the bodies of their sons and buried them in the Jewish cemetery at Szydlowiec.
The high holidays arrived. We had a good cantor in our midst Berele Burshtinski. Prayer books were provided by the tailors Mendl Wasserstein and Hershl Shlock, who used to go to Zawichost every day, along with Itche Silberstein, who did the buying.
Every Sunday, no matter how cold it was, we were taken down to the river to bathe and to delouse our clothing. We kept as close to each other as possible, for warmth. In October we still stood barefoot at our work.
The only comfort we ever got was when mothers would come to the camp to visit their sons. One Sunday Beyla Heshkes came to see her two sons, Yankl Silberman and one whose name I don't remember. She brought packages for some of the other prisoners, including me.
I want to mention here some of the other Szydlowiecrs that I remember who were in the camp with me: Mendl Katz, the brothers H and S. Rotman, Gershon Zucker, the brothers Brones, Abba Ingerowicz, the brothers Wolowski, Meir Buchbinder, Gershon Kochan, Saul Zlatowicz, the Richter cousins, Shiya Schwartzfuter; Jekutiel Gzemba, whose stepfather Shmuel Tsalels was a member of the Judenrat, was there by mistake. (There were many others whose names I don't remember.)
Exodus from Janiczew
On the morning of November 11th something happened
that we never even dreamed of. When it happened, we still didn't believe it.
In accordance without usual routine, we got out of our dirty wooden bunks and lined up for roll call. We noticed that they were marching all the other groups off to work, except ours, the Szydlowiecrs. It was not a good sign. Were they going to send us to a death camp? Sunk in these gloomy thoughts we saw, coming out of the guard-house, the commandant and the Secretary of the Judenrat, Finkler. Our surprise grew even greater, but our fear diminished. Finkler approached us with papers in his hand. He called out our names one by one and we followed him through the open gate until we reached the Vistula, where a boat was waiting to take us to Zawichost.
It was a new Exodus from Egypt.
In Zawichost we didn't have long to wait. The train was already there. The sudden, unexpected freedom filled us with indescribable happiness.
At the city hall our parents and many friends were waiting. We embraced and kissed and shed tears of joy.
The Szydlowiecrs in the Juzefow camp could not expect another such miraculous rescue, so they did it differently they escaped one or two at a time, until not one Szydlowiecr was left in the camp.
Those of us who had been rescued from Janiszew and Juzefow were allowed to rest up for two weeks and then they put us to work again. That winter there again were severe snowstorms. The Judenrat had to provide crews to clean the roads. The situation was such that no one dared appear in the street without a shovel or a broom. Families were permitted to bring food to the men working on the roads.
During the time I was in the Janiszew camp my younger sister Freydl-Idess became engaged to Pintche Vester from Skarzyak. The wedding date was set for Hanuka, despite the difficult and dangerous conditions of the time. The ceremony
was performed in our house. The officiant was not the rabbi but the shammes, Shmuel Aaron Toyter. The guests were our family and a few neighbors, barely a minyan.
My brother-in-law Pintche remained in Szydlowiec and tried to earn a living by buying and selling whatever he could. Most dangerous was that he was dealing in rawhide leather.
No matter how heavy the heart was, Jews never lost their habit of making jokes. For example:
Mordkhe Shtenshliva (we called him Motte Borsht) used to say that Hitler had done him a big favor. Thanks to him a lot of refugees came to our shtetl, among them three young men who married his three daughters. How would this have been possible in normal times without dowries? Motte told his sons-in-law a long story about how he had buried a treasure in the walls of his house, and as soon as the war ended he would turn it over to them. . .
After it was decreed that all Jews must cut off their beards, Yankl Hertz (Yankl Brilliant) saw the Bath Attendant clean shaven for the first time in his life. He burst out laughing. I've heard of a king without a country, and a rabbi without a congregation, but a bathhouse attendant without a beard that I never expected to see!
Hitler came to a Jew and asked for a loan. The Jew didn't respond so quickly. Hitler asked him: Are you afraid I won't pay it back? The Jew replied: You took Poland, Czechoslovakia, Lithuania, France and other countries. When you return them all, you won't owe me anything either.
We told jokes in Yiddish and Polish, jokes with which we tried to sweeten our bitter lives a little bit.
* * *
As the refugees kept streaming into Szydlowiec from other towns, the Germans issued an order setting up an isolation center for homeless Jews. This was done in the Women's
Section of the synagogue. Supervisors were the hygienists in the Judenrat. After the order was issued that Jews could no longer live in the villages, new refugees arrived. Whoever had family in Szydlowiec had a place to live, but those who had no relatives and were poor stayed in the isolation center.
By 1941 there was already a death sentence for any Jew caught traveling by train, unless you had first obtained a special permit. Pintche, with his Aryan looks, was one of those who took the risk. He was recognized, however, by some Poles, who turned him in to the police. At the next station, the police shot him. This was about six months after he married my sister. A few months later she gave birth to a child who was already an orphan.
Pintche was the first victim in our family.
After his death my sister rented out her home to a kindergarten for girls, run by three highly educated women from Lodz. (They were sisters.) All day the children were either in our house or in our yard. They were taught Yiddish and Polish, but most important, someone was taking care of them. Most of them were the children of well-to-do families the existence of this kindergarten had to be kept secret from the Germans, but it continued to function until the deportations.
* * *
The German raids are more and more frequent. New labor camps have been opened at Jedlne, Wolnew, and Wysznowke (near Kielce). Wysznowke was a small camp, near a quarry.
Jedlne is a town on the other side of Radom. The Germans have built an air field there. From as far away as Szydlowiec we had to supply workers for that project. The head of the German labor office was Ribitsky (a Folksdeutsch). He instituted the system of work-cards. Each week they had to be stamped at the city hall while Ribitsky was present. On the spot he selected people and sent them to the labor camps. The
Only exceptions were people who had cards showing that they were working in another enterprise. Despite the great danger involved, a considerable number of Jews copied Ribitsky's stamp, so they could get out of his murderous claws.
The head of the Judenrat labor office was Kalman Rosenbaum, whose father was a respected Jewish leader in Szydlowiec. Although Kalman came from a fine family, he did not always follow their tradition. He was later killed during the deportation, in a very brutal manner.
The third labor camp was in Wolnew, where there had previously been a camp for Russian war prisoners.
I remained in Szydlowiec.
One day a Polish shoemaker named Parczewski appeared in the marketplace selling new shoes. Suddenly the infamous Price Control gang Mandel, Swiedko and Smidke swooped down on him and demanded to know where he had gotten such fine shoes. At first he refused to tell them, but when they started beating him he admitted that he had bought the uppers from Godl Honigman, the son of Leybush Meir Todres. They arrested the Pole. Honigman could not stand it when they started beating his wife and told them that he had bought the leather from Yeshaya Klaforde, a tanner. They then beat Klaforde unmercifully until he admitted that he had bought the rawhide from Pintche Vester, son-in-law of Motl Tokasz (my father).
They came to our house in the middle of the night. We had arranged that whenever the door was opened for Germans, the younger members of the family would run out through the yard. We did so. They beat up my father and took him with them because they could not find Pintche, who had been shot by the Germans some time before.
Nine o'clock in the morning my father came home. He was unrecognizable. They had given him a drug that put him in a state where he told them everything he knew. They had done
the same with Honigman and Klaforde. My father was sick for several weeks. Yeshaya Klaforde was imprisoned at Radom.
Up until 1942 Szydlowiec was one of the few cities in Poland that had no wall or fence around its ghetto. It was simply illegal to use the new road Kosciuskowska which started at Kielce Street, went through the old cemetery and ended at the Radom road. The Jews who lived near this street were in a difficult situation and had to be very careful. It happened, for example, that Shimon Weizhandler's daughter crossed the forbidden street early one morning. She was shot without warning.
In December 1941 the Germans announced that beginning January 1, 1942 the Jews of Szydlowiec would be forbidden to go outside the city limits. This was a severe blow because it meant we could not go into the village to by anything or to make deliveries of finished work (shoes clothing, etc.). those who still had business with the village had to complete it by January First.
I myself had some work from a Pole and a Folksdeutsch near Radom. A group of us from Szydlowiec and several from Radom rented a horse-and-wagon and started out for Radom. Up to Mlodoczin, things went smoothly. But then a car containing Swedka and Smidke and other police stopped us. They searched our wagon, told us to unload everything and marched us off the road into a field. They were going to take us all to Radom.
Realizing that there was nothing to lose, I explained to them that we hadn't left the ghetto, because in Szydlowiec there really was no ghetto. They checked my papers and right there in the field make a selection Radomites to the left, Szydlowiecrs to the right. They told us to run and pick up our things and we escaped with mere blows. The others they took to Radom.
The order against leaving the city led to a further
impoverishment of Szydlowiec, but people continued to risk their lives, trying to outsmart the murderous enemy and somehow earn a living.
In 1942 a new labor camp was opened in the quarries at Smilew. The German supervisor, Schroeder, presented himself as a Communist and people trusted him. The work there was not very difficult.
In order to evade the various German roundups, we built hiding places, which some people called bunkers.
The summer of 1942 was the worst. Not a week passed without another tragedy. One day a gang of Polish hoodlums tried to rob us. Some of our young fellows resisted and drove them off. A few days later they returned with the Gestapo, who started shooting indiscriminately. Among the victims were Yehezkel Farber and Meir Tenenbaum.
Someone reported to the Germans that Sarah Ita Freed, wife of Benyamin Lazer Yankels, as baking bread illegally. Swedko and Smidka rushed into her home and found the oven warm. They shot her on the spot. Shmuel Aaron the shammes and many others perished around that time. Life had become a wilderness.
Every week we had to report and have our work cards checked. If they had no place to send workers to, they stamped the card and you were free for another week. When the trucks came from Jedlne they grabbed anyone they could get their hands on.
Somehow I avoided all these selections and was never taken to Jedlne, where the following perished: Meir Kaplan's son, who had come from Cracow; Yudel Badchen's son, Moshe-Chaim Wignanski (his wife was left with young children). Notte Zucker was shot in Radom during this period, also leaving a young wife and children.
The werk-schutze (industrial police) from Skarzyak and the Germans from the camp at Wolnew came more and more
often to Szydlowiec and left with truckloads of slaves for their enterprises.
One day the Judenrat received an order to provide a list of Communists, thieves and prostitutes. The Judenrat's reply was (1) that when the war broke out, all the Communists had fled to the Russians, and (2) that there had never been any Jewish prostitutes in Szydlowiec. Thieves? The Judenrat had no such names. But the Germans somehow found out about Shmulik Brandmesser. No one knew how but they learned that at the end of 1939 or the beginning of 1940 a German freight-car carrying chocolate and cigarettes was diverted to Szydlowiec. The children had a good time with the tasty milk-chocolate and the cigarettes enjoyed a brisk sale, but the identity of the artists who pulled off this stunt remained a secret.
When Shmulik Brandmesser landed in the Radom prison I don't know what his crime was -- it occurred to the Gestapo that he might know something about that stolen train. They demanded that he give them the names of everyone who had anything to do with it. Shmulik told them they were all Poles from the village of Pagrzale, which is in the middle of a forest. It would not be easy to get into the house because the gang was heavily armed.
The Gestapo went to the place and took Shmulik with them. The plan was that he would enter the house first and bring the Poles out on some pretext, so there would be no shooting. They surrounded the house and waited, while Shmulik went inside. But he did not come out, so they started firing. When no one fired back, they broke into the house and found it empty.
It turned out that Shmulik had planned it all out beforehand. He knew that the peasant who lived in that remote lace had discovered a secret tunnel in it that led deep into the forest. While the Germans stood outside waiting for him and
the Poles to come out, he and the peasant escaped through the secret passageway and vanished.
Early in August 1942 I was caught in one of the German roundups. They took me straight to the city hall and put me in a room with a group of other young men. That evening Ribitsky came in and started his sadistic tricks. He selected the strongest men and threw them across the table. He did a lot of other things and didn't stop until he tired himself out.
Early next morning the doors were opened. The trucks were already waiting for us. They took us first to Wolnew, then to Rashkew, several miles away. They were laying a short rail line from there to Wolnew, where they were planning to build an airfield. But they took our work-cards away from us.
At the new work-site I found a cousin of mine, Shmuel Eisenberg, who had already been there for a long time. At the end of the day they took us back to Wolnew, which was still a temporary camp. They had not yet built bunks and we all slept on the hard floor.
The next morning they took us to Rashkew again in little trucks called lorkes. When you loaded them up with sand and stones you could dump the stuff out mechanically. In our lorke was a young Pole who started kidding around and opened the gate. Several of us fell out onto the road. Luckily we weren't going very fast. I was knocked out by the fall, but when I came to I found myself near the home of the Folksdeutsch for whom I had done some tailoring. I went there and told him the whole story. He sent me to a supervisor who happened to live in Szydlowiec and I arranged to go with him after his day's work. I paid him well for the trip, and that's how I got out of that situation with a whole skin.
My arrival at home was a complete surprise, but there was one problem: my work card was still at Wolnew, and without that card it was dangerous to appear in public. I had to keep
out of Ribitsky's way; the police had no idea how I'd gotten away from Wolnew.
One day I was in my sister's store when two young people suddenly ran in, followed by Ribitsky. He demanded to see our work-cards. The others complied, but what could I do? Without a word he started beating me so brutally that I thought it was the end. My sister fainted. From out of nowhere a Jewish policeman appeared (his name was Buskowada). On Ribitsky's command he arrested me and led me to the Jewish jail, where he locked me in a cell and left.
I looked around to see where I was. An empty room, a bunk knocked together out of boards, a long bench, the window small and barred. I had to get out of there right away tomorrow might be too late. I moved the bench up to the door and started using it as a battering ram. The door sprang its hinges. I spent the night among the gravestones in the Jewish cemetery near the jail, and at daylight, when it was legal for Jews to appear on the street, I walked home as quickly as I could.
I couldn't stay there, of course. It would be the first place Ribitsky would look. I moved in with neighbors named Paris, who had a good hiding place.
* * *
As if we didn't have enough new troubles, we were still plagued by the old ones. We had assumed that the business with the leather and my brother-in-law Pintche had been forgotten. We were mistaken. One day my father received a summons to appear at the Sondergericht in Radom, where the trial of Yeshaya Klaforde was taking place he had already been in the Radom jail for several months for illegal dealings in leather.
The trial was scheduled for August 10, 1942. My father was terribly frightened. T here was a Jew from Lodz in Szydlowiec
who knew a little about the law. (His name was Blatt and he was a frequent guest in our house.) His advice was that my father should stand trial because, in his opinion, they would let him go free.
The day that my father went to Radom was like Tisha B'Av in our house. The farewells were heart-rending. We knew what might happen to him if he fell into the hands of the Nazis.
The chief witnesses at the trial were Swiedko and Smidke. Pintche's parents had sent in his death certificate. So the chief defendant was Klaforde, whom they sentenced to death. Since no evidence was produced to link my father with the trading in rawhide, he was released. The condemned prisoner took the verdict calmly. The sentence was not carried out immediately. Six weeks later, when the deportation took place, the Nazis brought him to Szydlowiec, where he was shot, along with many other Jews, in a mass grave at the cemetery.
My Brother's Tragic Death
My brother Yisrolke was exempt from forced labor because he had an extra card marked Flucht-arbeit, but it had not been issued by the Judenrat. When the German labor office discovered this they arrested him and sent him to Wolnew.
From his previous experience in Janiszew, he knew how to deal with the camp administrators and managed to obtain his release. He did not want to make the trip home on foot, however, and tried to find a wagon that was going to Szydlowiec. The opportunity presented itself in the shape of a group of Jews with green passes who were traveling to Szydlowiec. (These were people who collected old rags and scrap metal for the Germans; they had permission to move around outside the ghetto.)
They left Wolnew very early in the morning on September 3rd, a day that the Jews later called Bloody Thursday. The S.S. and Ukrainian fascists had surrounded Szydlowiec and rounded up everyone on the street. They took them first to the city hall, where they arrested them, and then to the Hasag camp.
The wagon on which my brother and the group of Jews were traveling approached the town and got as far as the Polish cemetery on the hill with three crosses. Without warning, an S.S. patrol started shooting at them, killing everyone in the wagon. The awful news reached my mother and father very soon, but because I was in the hiding-place, I did not know about it until the next morning when I walked into our house. The scene shattered me completely. A minyan reciting the morning prayers, my parents sitting shiva what words of consolation could anyone possibly offer at a time like that?
Every day for a week there were services at our house because it was right before Rosh Hashona. Sorrow emanated from every corner. My mother's despair made her seriously ill. She kept asking, amidst her tears:
And what of my youngest son? Who knows what terrible things are happening to him? The saying goes: A mother's heart is a prophet. As my sister-in-law Tsippe told me after the war, my youngest brother Avrom Chaim died in a Soviet prison in Alma Ata. She visited him there a few times. The last time she saw him he had been severely beaten. The next day he was dead. She could not get any information as to how or why. How strange: both my brothers died in the same month and the same year Yisrolke at the hands of the German murderers and Avrom Chaim at the hands of the Bolsheviks in Russia. He was barely 24 years old.
September 1942. The high holy days, the fearful days. Never before had that word been so suitable. The Ten Penitential days seemed like ten years. Rumors of deportation the thing we feared the most. Some people tried to get themselves assigned to work-sites, some prepared to escape. But where to? The Poles lay in wait everywhere.
Our family decided to hide. My Grandmother Gitl, who lived with us for years after my Grandfather Nachman's death, begged her grandchildren and great grandchildren to save themselves by any means possible. My sister Freydl dressed herself up in peasant clothing, took her little child and started walking to her mother-in-law's in Skarzysk. Some Poles recognized her immediately and she barely made it back alive. All roads were closed. My Aunt Hannah (my mother's sister from Lodz) took her two children, Rifkele and Shiyele, and headed for Werzbice, where there was a small camp. Her husband, Yosl Eisenberg, who was an invalid, remained with us.
2. From Deportation to the Camps
Sunday, Sept. 20, 1942
Erev Yom Kippur. We are preparing to welcome the great holiday, but in a much different way than usual. From early morning, people have been streaming to the Jewish cemetery to pray to the dead, beseeching them to intercede with Heaven for the Jews. My mother visited the grave of my brother Yisroelke, who had been brutally murdered by the Nazis a few days before Rosh Hashonah. He was the second victim in our family.
The Kol Nidre services were held in private homes. Our family met in Shimon Kartshusker's house on Zamkowa Street. The prayer leader was my Uncle Yosl Eisenberg, a refugee from Lodz.
Monday, Sept. 21, 1942
Yom Kippur. In the illegal congregations Jews prayed with deep feeling and much weeping. Everyone prayed for a little bit more of life. People said they had already seen the boxcars waiting at the railroad station. The Judenrat knew nothing about this. The Germans had promised the Judenrat that the Jews of Szydlowiec would not be deported.
Tuesday, Sept. 22, 1942
Early morning. Many people have already assembled at the bodns with their backpacks. They are waiting for a truck to take them to Lipowa-Pola, a small camp for construction work. You had to pay to get in to that particular camp. The porters tried to stop them. What do you mean you'll save yourselves and leave us at their mercy? It was no use, however. The truck arrived and those who had registered left the city.
Faivl Steinowicz tells me that our friend Moyshe Itskowitz is working in Chaim Goldberg's shop. Goldberg had two shops shoemakers and tailors. The men brought their own tools and sewing machines. The master shoemaker was David Wystonshko; Velvl Stark was the master tailor. Faivl and I went there but could not get in. Moyshe came out and told me that if we wanted to work there, we would have to pay. It was like a Noah's Ark; you could enter and save yourself from the flood, but the ark was locked. That night Faivl and his children went to Wiarbice, where there was a small camp.
That same night a meeting was held at Menahem Lefkowitz's house. Shmulik Brandmesser told us that rather than get into the trains we should go into the forest. But we had no weapons. Fists cannot fight against rifles. Shmulik left and things remained as they were. No one slept that night. We could hear the trucks roaring by, some carrying people to
Starchowicz, some to Wolanow. It went on till three in the morning. At four o'clock a fleet of trucks came in on the new road to Radom. They stopped at the movie house near Avrom Beyla Sheyndl's orchard. The first shot rang out someone had tried to escape into the orchard. I don't know who the victim was.
Wednesday, Sept. 23, 1942
Six o'clock in the morning the loudspeakers announced that at precisely 8 o'clock everyone must report to the haymarket or to Wolnoszchi Square. Anyone found at home after that would be shot on the spot. Each person was permitted to take luggage weighing no more than 20 pounds. This order was enforced by the police, who went to every street. The spasmodic weeping of women and children was beyond description. In our house we prepared to go to the designated place. My father still believed that the Germans would not kill anyone. God would protect us, he said.
People began streaming toward the haymarket. Our neighbor, Shiya Ronchke, took his wife and child and whatever he could load into a baby carriage and went to Chaim Goldberg's shop. Everyone was on the move, it was almost 8 o'clock.
Some observant Jews had gone to the mikveh to immerse themselves before the massacre. There were still some optimists who had erected sukkahs. I remember the one that Simcha-Leybush, husband of Freyda-Reyzl Eisenstadt, put up. My brother-in-law's sister Beyla was on crutches with a broken leg. One of the murderers decided to put her out of her misery, as one does a horse he shot her.
The town was so closely guarded that it was impossible to escape. Every few feet, a murderer with a machine-gun. Some
were stationed around the town limits, some at the haymarket, and some at the city hall.
There were cases where grandmothers pleaded with their daughters to leave their children with them and try to escape. Very few did that. It is not so easy to leave your children behind. They all died together. That is what happened with my two sisters, Tsipporah and Freydl, God rest their souls.
As if there weren't already enough victims, two more children were added to the list when David Frishman's daughter Reyza gave birth to a son that night. She and her baby were taken to the haymarket. The same happened with Simcha Leybush Blander's daughter Hannah. The grandmother, Miriam Leah, refused to let her daughter and the newborn baby leave the house. You can imagine what happened to them. Later, a small child was found in the home of Lefkowitz and his wife Shifra (Boruch Konowski's daughter). The murderous Ukrainian who found it started screaming, Where is the child's mother? I cannot bear to think what he did to that child.
By 8 o'clock the town was empty, except for the Jews who stayed in their hiding-places.
Schroeder arrived. He ran a labor camp in the quarry at Smilew. He liked to pick his workers himself. Everyone tried to get into is group. Later the District Commander, Schippers, arrived and made a short speech to the crowd: Whoever gave him a thousand zloty would be released. Panic set in. Anyone who had the required sum of money turned it in. Those who had no money were lined up and taken directly to the railroad station, where the trains were waiting.
The whole business with the thousand zloty was a trick. Those who turned in t heir money were driven to the castle and locked up until Friday, with no food or water. The wives of the Jewish police were supposed to be released. They were all at the home of our neighbor Moyshe Levy the baker. They stayed
there one day and then were taken to the castle. The same fate awaited the workers in the shops first they were taken to the castle and then to the railroad station.
Those who had gathered at the haymarket were taken to the new road that runs from Jaschomba Street to the old cemetery. In front of the cemetery, several Jews attempted to break out of the ranks. They fell under a hail of bullets. Two managed to escape. Moyshe Kuperberg (today in Brazil) ran into Moyshe Yudl Feldman's house and hid. Later he was among the workers who came to our block. (barracks). The other one, who hid in the cemetery, also ended up in our block. Later, Hananiah Grundman, Chaim Joseph's son, was found among the dead.
Heartrending cries of thousands of men, women and children. It was as if masses of people were walking to their own funerals. Many of the older men had put on their kitels or taleisim underneath their outer clothing. All along the way to the railroad station five miles outside Szydlowiec lay the bodies of Jews who had been shot.
The cemetery became a slaughter-house. The Nazis brought many Jews here who had been arrested in Radom and shot them. Among them were many Szydlowiecrs. Some that I remember are Yeshaya Klaporda, Kalman Rosenbaum, Hannah Batye Briks (granddaughter of Porye the baker.) Prominent among the murderers were Smidke and Swiedko.
One work-group was assigned to dig a mass grave. All the dead were buried there. Then another work-group rode around with horse-and-wagon and collected all the bodies on the roads and in the houses. In a small room in the office of the Mayor (Zulikowski) they later found the bodies of Abraham and Perele Warshawsky and their young child.
Schroeder, who tried to round up his workers, assured everyone that he was not a Nazi but a Communist. Many Jews trusted him. He lived in the home of the Buchbinders he hid
them and kept them from being deported. But as soon as everyone had gone, he reported to the police that some Jews were hiding in his house.
One work-group went from house to house and sealed up the Jewish homes. On the outside wall of each house they pasted a red sign declaring that it was now the property of the Third Reich. They boarded up all the doors, but that didn't stop the Poles from getting in and cleaning out these houses of all their contents.
For this work-group the Nazis opened a soup kitchen in the home of Fishl the Tanner. Chief cook was Avrom Yitzhok Gritshman. The Polish baker Gishko was forced to supply the bread.
The workers who went from house to house on this job saw many terrible scenes. Yankl Rabinowicz (we called him the Kishka-maker) lay in his bed, facing the wall. The Ukrainian gendarme had demanded to know why Yankl had not reported along with everyone else. He did not shoot him, however; he split his head open with the butt of his rifle. Yankl's last words were shema yisroel. . .
Moyshe Singer lived in a house owned by a Christian woman who hid his whole family and his wife's family. A few hours after the deportation she reported them. They were all shot.
The Ehrlich's had left their child behind in their house. Karpinski, the German officer who found him, shot the child on the spot.
In Saul Zucker's house lived the dentist, Taubenhaus. He was a convert but he went along with all the other Jews. His wife was shot in the courtyard.
Two Poles reported that a Jewish woman was hiding at the apothecary's. (The woman was Devorele Stark.) The murderers came and shot her. Leybush Schwartzfuter took poison.
Avromele Fuchs' mother was found she had been shot
by Motilka. Shlomo Neiberg's body, in tallis and tefillin, was found in the attic. Zachariah Blizinski tried to run into the street and paid with his life. Porye the baker was found dead inside her home.
The most brutal of the murderers were Fuchs, Bauer and Karpinski.
The Chevra Kedisha (the burial commando) worked all day long. My group was taken to Pinkert's building, where the post office was located. In the yard there was an abandoned building that was once a factory where they made pots and pans. This became our barracks or block.
All night long our Polish neighbors, with the help of the firemen, looted the Jewish homes. Distinguishing themselves in this work were the brothers Romek and Antek Plaskota.
The situation in the castle grew more and more desperate. Half the Jews of Szydlowiec were crowded into the courtyard there. It was inhuman. People paid in gold for a drink of water. Bread or anything else to eat was out of the question. There was a lake nearby and for a pot of dirty water Itka paid 50 zloty she needed it for her sick child. Things were so bad that people there envied those who had gone into the trains.
Thursday, Sept. 24, 1942
One bloody day has gone by. What next? The Jewish police are again taking groups of workers to city hall. The work of collecting the dead is not over. Poles keep bringing information about places where there are bodies of Jews who had been shot. The Germans are not allowing anyone through. They search everyone. One of them noticed the body of a man in the lake he ordered it brought to shore and searched all the pockets.
Several places were set up to store the goods taken from Jewish homes. One such place was the Corso movie house, the
other in the city hall. For the purpose of making this collection, Poles in the city lent their horses and wagons. Accompanying them were gendarmes, a Jewish policeman and several workers. Going through the Jewish homes, the Jewish workers tried to stay close to Osterbach, the chief guard, who was an exception among the Germans. He never shot anyone and he often closed his eyes to things he didn't want to see. There was one other decent man a chauffeur for the Nazis.
The work of searching for hidden treasure in Jewish homes didn't always go smoothly. There was a certain Mietek (and his brother Tomashew) who was a specialist in finding such hiding-places. He believed that nothing should be left for the Poles. The S.S. once came to a house where they found some Poles robbing the place. They shot one of them on the spot.
Friday, Sept. 25, 1942
Erev Succos. The workers march to Pinkert's. They stand and wait. This is unusual. Everyone is afraid that something terrible is about to happen. Their fears were not groundless.
All the murderers were at the castle. They led out the Jews there. Then several of the Nazis came to Pinkert's, counted off half of the workers standing there and marched them to the castle. They herded the victims to the brewery, turned at the bridge over the stream, and then along Zamkowa Street to the new road and the railroad station. Again the same tragedy. Mass killings. Horror and suffering at every step. Marching through the woods to the station, Rochel Toyter stepped out of line and ran into the woods. The murderers didn't notice. She got away safely and survived the war. She was the only one.
Saturday, September 26, 1942
After the deportation of the Jews from the castle, there
was again many dead bodies along the way to the train. The Chevra Kedisha again had plenty of work. The Poles discovered a new occupation. Since there were no more Jews in the castle they took advantage of the new German order offering a pound of sugar or a bottle of whiskey to anyone who turned up a hidden Jew. They went right to work. They besieged a group of Jews in a village near Szydlowiec among them Motl Bergman and his brother and as soon as one of the Jews left his group for a moment they seized him and brought him to the Germans.
Finding myself near our house, I wanted to see whether anyone in our family was hiding there. I also wanted to look in at Yakov Shimon Weisbrot's house, where I knew there was a hiding-place. I never made it. On a back street, near Leybush Meir Todres's house, a fireman caught me. Halt! Come with me! he commanded. I reminded him that we had been classmates in the Polish school, but it didn't help. I gave him all my money and he let me go. But then another Pole stopped me and threatened to tell the police. Luckily, at that moment, the wagon transporting the Jewish labor commando came by. The Jewish policeman told the Pole that I belonged to this group and that he had to bring me back to the city. This Jewish policeman, Avrom Moyshe Eisenberg, thus saved my life.
In the warehouse where they put the Jewish property there was a lot of work to do, but there were only five suits of clothing there, all belonging to Shmuel Licht. Where were the rest of the suits that had been left behind in Jewish homes? They had already been taken by Poles who got there first.
Yankl Kuperman came from the camp at Starchowicz and proposed that we all go there, but no one wanted to take his advice. [Page 125]
Sunday, Sept. 27, 1942
A new German order. Anyone finding a Jew must not shoot him, but bring him to the barracks at Pinkert's. This was a piece of good news. I immediately went and hired a horse-and-wagon.
The driver was a Jew from Tomashew (Mietek's brother). We rode through Szydlowiec on Radom Street to our house. It looked like a building after a fire all the doors and windows smashed. The rooms were stripped bare. I called out, but o one answered. The hiding-place was open, as were both cellars. I could clearly picture the tragedy that had been enacted here.
I walked over to Yakov Shimon Weisbrot's house. Here they did answer me. We walked up the stairs. A little door in the attic opened. This was the hiding-place of Melech and Milka Paris, their son Avrom Yenkl and daughter Chaya. Yakov Shimon was there also. After four days without food and water, they looked ghastly. But they were happy to see us. Unfortunately, Antek Plaskata had attached himself to us like a leech and as we were helping these people out of the attic, all the money that Mrs. Paris had hidden in her clothing fell to the ground. Plaskata snatched it up and disappeared.
That afternoon other Jews began streaming out of their hiding-places. Some walked in; others were brought in on wagons. Since we were returning from work at the time, many of them fell into the line with us and went to Pinkert's. I can still recall Rivkele Greenbaum coming out of their house and walking along with us.
Things were bad enough at Pinkert's, but we were out in the fresh air, there was water for everyone, and no one starved.
Monday, Sept. 28, 1942
Every day the crowd that gathers at Pinkert's grows a bit larger. People keep coming out of their hiding-places. Who
would ever have imagined that so many Jews would have dared to disobey a German order? It was an act of great resistance. For example, they have just brought in Nehama Lindsen, wife of the leather manufacturer Yudl Lindsen. Her appearance has changed completely. She is practically out of her mind. With her came Mrs. Leselbogen, daughter of Hershl Mendl Katz. She kept saying: Where are my children? Where are my children? None of her children were there.
Anyone could barter something from the Polish women who used to come to the gate to take advantage of this opportunity to get bargains from their erstwhile friends.
Our work is still the same. Today we went through a neighborhood called The Rinele. There used to be a number of stores here. Near Antoniak's new bathhouse there was a small store packed with goods. The Poles had not yet discovered it, so we took everything to the city hall. Yitzhok Menahem's store had already been ransacked, as had Moyshe Yapok's and Hershele Chusteski's and all the others.
From there we went to Ogradowa or Bathhouse Street. With us was Osterbach and two of the Jewish police Alter and Israel Katz. My cousin Yenkl; Milstein was in my group. We came to the home of my Uncle Yitzhok and Aunt Gitl. It had only recently been built. Inside the gate were some Poles who had come to buy the furniture. My cousin was so upset that he froze in his tracks.
At the Maslowicz place we found a large quantity of leather. We took it all to the city hall.
Tuesday, Sept. 29, 1942
Shmuel Weisbrot and his family appeared today. Also, Chaim Rosenberg and his whole family, except Shlomele, who was already in the Radom ghetto. Pinchas Steinman and his family were also brought in. In the evening, Ethel
The block at Pinkert's now looks like a small town. Every day Poles bring things to barter. Avremele Rosenzweig asked the police to go with him to his house in Szydlowiec he had some foreign currency hidden there. I went with him. He ran up to the attic, but everything was gone.
We also went to the house of Chaya Paris and her brother Yenkl. They had hidden a fortune inside the oven. One crack of a hammer and the oven fell apart. Everything was still there. We gathered it all up. On the way back, a Pole who had been expelled from Poznan (his name was Gezetski) took many of the things from us, but what he left was still enough to sell or barter for vital necessities.
Today they brought Gitele Lederman from a bunker, also her daughter Rivke Gertner and her husband Leybush, and his brother Nathan. Gitele revived when she came into the block, but her daughter looked very weak. People said she had given birth to a child in the bunker. I don't know what happened to the child. All of them were later sent to Skarzysk, but only Leybush and Nathan were sent to Hasag, where they later perished.
Thursday, Oct. 1, 1942
Many Jews consider the announcement permitting Jews to come out of hiding as just another piece of German trickery. Pinchas Steinman and his family decided to flee to Wolonow or Starchowicz. Shmuel Weisbrot did the same. The Poles seem to be rushing too fast to buy up everything they can. Have they smelled a new Jewish calamity in the air?
People are growing more and more uneasy. Families stay close together. I'm staying with the Paris family. This evening Yankl Kuperman came and again urged us to escape to Starchowicz. This time several went with him. Running to Wolonow was more dangerous.
On the first day of the deportation, Elya Broitman had taken his wife and his father-in-law Shiya Gotz and started out for Wolonow. Outside the town they met a German labor supervisor. He shot them on the spot.
Friday, Oct. 2, 1942
Today is Hoshana Raba. Since early morning there has been a lot of movement in the block. People are preparing for services. We have a good cantor here Chaim Rosenberg. The prayers have never been more heartfelt. No one knows what the day will bring. The workers go out as usual. We march out of the building, are divided up by the S.S. and go to our regular places the movie theater, the city hall, the old cemetery. Here a new operation has begun pulling the gravestones out of the ground. We don't know what they are planning to do with the stones.
Around 10 o'clock, a commotion. The firemen are lined up. Wagons are coming in from all directions. They stop at Pinkert's. The S.S.-man Karpinski comes over to our group and starts counting out the men. I am number 52, Moyshe Kuperberg is number 53. 55 is the last number of those that are to remain in the city, plus 25 of the Jewish police.
At this deportation the Jews are treated better than at the previous two. No one is shot. Older people are put on the wagon.
In addition to the remaining workers and police, a group of Jews, under German guard, goes out to collect rags and scrap metal. They wear green patches with the inscription Useful Jews. Among them are Moyshele Kleinman, Alter Shadman,
Yankl Richter, Yitzhok Formalski, Notele Shadman and several Jews from Lodz.
No one is now permitted to enter the Pinkert building. When we return from work that evening, the place was empty.
What to do now? What trickery did the Germans have in store for us now? We had not yet heard about the partisans. Going to a camp was a frightening thought. There was nothing to do but wait and see what fate had in store for us.
Around that time a Pole brought letters from the deported Szydlowiecrs in Skarzysk. Some of them had been selected for work in the ammunition factories there. I myself received a letter from the Paris family saying that Chaya and Avrom were working in one of the factories.
Saturday, Oct. 3, 1942
We are marched over to the city hall by Ostrowiez, who is now commander of the Jewish police. He is not a Szydlowiecr, but came from Cracow during the war. There are now only two guards over the whole town Bauer and Karpinski. (Both of them are Folksdeutschen.) To us they look like devils out of hell. Shooting Jews is their favorite sport. They are in complete charge over us. They assign us to work places. The new work place is Chaim Bergman's recently built mill on Yastchemba Street. The Poles are surprised to see us again they had thought they were finally rid of us.
After work we are moved to the new home at Fishl the tanner's. It is more comfortable here than at Pinkert's. Fishl's tannery was a big vacant building with more room to move around. The approach to the tannery is through Zamkowa Street. On one side was Yulik's orchard; a bit further was the castle. The entrance was through a gate that was always kept locked -- you had to ring a bell to get in. This is a help to us,
because whenever the two murderers arrive, we know about it immediately. It's especially helpful at night, when we often have visitors. Masha Silberstein, for example, was there a few times, dressed as a Polish girl. We gave her whatever we could. She traveled through villages and forests trying to make contact with partisans, but she never met any of them.
Bergman's mill has become a main warehouse. All the things we collect are brought there.
Monday, Oct. 5, 1942
On the way to work our group was increased by two Avrom Moshe Davidman and his son-in-law, Gershele Fuchs, both of whom had been hiding in a bunker. When Bauer and Karpinski counted two more heads, they ordered the new comers to step out of line. They did so.. What shall we do now? the commander asked. Cemetery! Karpinski ordered, in Polish. We knew what that meant and advised the two to make a run for it. They argued, however, that they had nothing to lose, that since they hadn't been shot on the spot, there was still hope.
But it didn't end as they had hoped. That day a group of nine Szydlowiecrs arrived from Starchowicz by permission of the camp commandant. Among the nine were Zalman Shtenshliva, the son of Leybush Nissen and Hadas. Also, Yosl Rosenzweig, son of Aaron Rosenzweig, the baker. (I don't recall who the others were.) The two murderers ordered them all to line up. The Jews showed them their passes from the camp commandant, but it was no use. The nine men, plus the two newcomers, were led to the cemetery . . . and shot.
Moyshe Davidman's wife, who was then hiding in the rabbinical mausoleum in the cemetery, heard the shots, but was unaware that her husband and brother were among the victims.
Around the same time, a photographer with Aryan documents came into town, but the Poles recognized him and turned him in. They received their bottle of whiskey in reward.
Later, Shaya Alpert's daughter came to Szydlowiec. The murderers found her at home and became another of Bauer's victims.
The Poles reported that there was a dead woman in a house opposite Plaskata's orchard. It was Yehiel Feldman's mother, Sarah. She had been dead for quite some time.
Wednesday, Oct. 7, 1942
The latest news is that the Jewish apothecary Goldzamd has been arrested and is being kept in the Polish jail. His store was on Radomska Street, in the house of Shaya Alpert. His brother-in-law Kuba was with us (I don't recall his last name.) Kuba had something to do with the police. Neither of them was born in Szydlowiec, but settled there some time before the war. Kuba appealed to the commander of the Jewish police to save his brother-in-law. In return, he would divulge the location of a large hiding-place with a fortune in goods. The hiding-place was the work of Mendl Meyerfeld.
All the goods were taken out and carted to Yuzef Podkovinski's restaurant. Then Goldzamd was released, but
had to leave the city immediately. It was considered a worthwhile exchange, since a Jewish life was saved.
Working at the theater warehouse, I went out into the street for a few minutes and noticed that Feyga Goldband, Hersh David's daughter, was standing nearby. Where did you come from? I asked her. She pointed to the new cemetery, where she and other Jews were hiding. I advised her to hide in Shlome Eisenberg's courtyard for the time being, because Bauer and Karpinski were in the warehouse at that time. (They used to check there every night to see if anyone was there illegally.)
The next day, transporting goods from the theater to Bergman's warehouse, a Pole stopped me and asked me where he could find Jews in the neighborhood. He was the son of a Polish nobleman who lived in Gazdkew. Bauer happened to notice this. He ran over and shoved the young man off his motorcycle. Luckily he didn't ask me about the conversation. Later I learned that the young man's parents were hiding Joseph Mendelson, who wanted to come into the city but didn't know where to find us. He wasn't even sure there were any Jews left in Szydlowiec.
Friday, Oct. 9, 1942
Another difficult problem has arisen: two of our workers, Moyshe Briks and Motek Milstein (a grandson of Leah Zislis Gershonovitz) went out for several hours and fell into the hands of the Polish police. With them was Abraham Weisbrot, who had been hiding in the home of a Christian woman. Now the same tactic had to be applied as in the case of Goldzamd. Leybush Briks and one of our workers tried by every means to save the men, but where could they find another hidden store of goods to ransom the three lives?
It turned out that Yosl Broitman did know of such a place;
his neighbor, Pinchas Meyer Milgrom, on Radom Street, opposite Leybush Warshawsky the tailor's. Ostrowiecz negotiated this successfully with Bauer and Karpinski. We immediately drove wagons up to the place. Then we found a quantity of dry goods and many pieces of white linen. Again it was worth it: three Jewish lives ransomed. The rescuers, Yosel Broitman and Leybush Briks, later perished in the Hasag. Motek was shot while trying to escape. Abraham Weisbrot and Moyshe Briks, survived the war.
Around that time some Poles reported to the Germans that Jews were hiding in the synagogue. Bauer ran over there, but found no one (They had fled in time.) He also heard that Jews were hiding in the Ludavniye. Zelig the chauffeur's parents had actually been hiding there, but fortunately Bauer came too late.
Sunday, Oct. 11, 1942
We learned that some people working at the cemetery had seen Jews hiding there in a mausoleum. They helped them in whatever way they could, but some Poles got wind of it and reported it to the police. When we returned to our barracks we already found all those who had been hiding in the cemetery: Rochel (wife of Avrom Moyshe Davidman) and her two little girls; Berl Tempel, a Hassid of Bialobzeg, would eat only bread and water. They stayed with us several days. We thought that since they hadn't been shot when they were found they might be allowed to join our work group, but a few days later the Nazis took them back to the cemetery and killed them all.
Joseph Mendelson and Hershl Lederman have attached themselves to our group. We never learned how this was arranged, but it worked, and they survived the war.
Masha Silberstein has visited us again. She has still not found any trace of the partisans. Again we gave her whatever supplies we could and she left.
Wednesday, Oct. 14, 1942
The regular Wednesday fair is being held but without Jews. A sudden commotion. A peasant has found a small boy in the street. It is Shmulik Brandmesser's son. His father had paid a Polish peasant a large sum of money to keep the child hidden, but the man had brought the boy to the fair. The child was taken to city hall. The murderers ordered Notte Broitman, one of our work group, to carry the child to the cemetery. There Karpinski shot him.
Reuben Shadman came from another camp to see his brother Notele. As he was leaving our barracks, the murderers were entering the gate. Reuben tried to escape, but they caught him. Bauer demanded Where is Morro? They called Yitzhok Morro. Bauer stormed at him: Are you a Jew or a Pole? It seems that some Poles had accused him of wandering around the streets pretending to be Polish. Through the intervention of Commander Ostrowiecz and other police, Bauer was pacified, and Isaac Morro was saved from certain death.
Friday, Oct. 16, 1942
The S.S. summoned the two tailors in our group Avrom Weisbrot and myself and ordered us to collect bed sheets and large tablecloths and make square napkins out of them. We had no sewing machines in the place, so they permitted us to go into the home of a Pole who lived near Bergman's mill. When we entered this house we were surprised to find Notte Kuperberg and his wife there. What were they doing here, so close to the murderers? Their reply was almost apathetic
they had nothing more to lose. (I don't know what happened to them afterward.)
Bauer happened to be in a good mood. He asked if there was anyone among us who could sing. Yehiel Honigman obliged him with a sad Polish song about a mother and her child. Bauer said the song moved him to tears. I wanted to ask him: Murderer! How many Jewish mothers and children have you killed with your own hands?
Tuesday, Oct. 20, 1942
Some Poles came into Bergman's warehouse and informed the Germans that they had seen Notte Shadman and Yankel Richter near the church. Bauer drove over on his motorcycle at once. He shot Notte and Yankel on the spot.
Masha Silberstein has stopped coming to our block. Who knows what happened to her?
Tuesday, Nov. 10, 1942
They did not take us out to work today. After the roll call at the city hall we were marched into the center of town. Each one of us was given a broom and ordered to start cleaning the streets. I was assigned the area from the bodns to Plaskato's orchard. The houses are desolate. On the entire street there are only two families, a former worker of Shiya Opatowski's, who took over the bakery, and a Pole who was expelled from Posen.
I was already in the middle of the street with my broom, standing outside our house at 97 Radomska. I wanted to go inside, but couldn't get myself to do it. Tears flowed down my cheeks. Here my cradle had stood. Here I had spent a happy childhood in the bosom of my family. From this house my mother and my father were deported. They were models of goodness and honesty. From here my sister Tsipporah and her
husband, Chaim Katz, were deported with their children Yakov Yitzhok, Shmuel, Nechamele, Leahele and Estherl; also my young sister Freydl and her child Hershele, barely two years old, and my beloved Grandmother Gitl.
Thus ended our last work day in Szydlowiec. That night several men in our group ran away: Shlomo Tepper, Avrom Genya, AvromVerman (the best shoemaker in the town), and Joseph Mendelson, the only one who survived.
Carrying Aryan documents, Isaac Morro, Nathan Stark and Tyemek (from Tomaszow) left the city.
Several of our group went into the forest: Pinchas Meir Greenberg, Moyshe and Hershl Tsiniser, Avrom Draynodel, Itche Richter (he had left earlier) and Shmulik Brandmesser. Whether they ever made contact with the partisans, I don't know.
Wednesday, Nov. 11, 1942
This morning we got up as usual and ate breakfast. Two trucks are already standing outside the gate, guarded by Ukrainians from the Hasag camp. This tells us plainly where we are going. Better that way. We had feared that after work today we would all be liquidated.
Our two bosses came and gave us two hours to get ready. In place of those who had escaped came Yankl Draynodel. His brother Yeheskel had been with us all along, but had been hiding. We all got into the trucks. This time they overlooked the roll call.
The trucks move slowly. The gate on Fishl's tannery recedes. Gradually our whole shtetl disappears from view, as in a dream.
Left behind in Szydlowiec were only those who worked as Useful Jews Itzik Formalski, Moyshe Kleinman, Alter Shadman and a few others from Lodz. I do not know what happened to them.
Later we learned that the Zucker brothers were hiding in the village of Wysocki. A few Jews had been hiding in the cellar of the castle, but not for long. All of them were found and shot.
My Uncle Boruch and his two boys, 8 and 5 years old, were still hiding in the village of Skzenczin. Jagelo, the Pole who hid them, later died in Auschwitz. My uncle was shot in 1943. My two cousins, Yakov Yitzhok and Bronek, survived the war.
* * *
Each day, when we marched through the streets of the town, we could notice things changing. Houses disappeared, as after an earthquake. Peasants from the nearby villages brought Jewish houses from the S.S., took them apart and brought the materials into the villages to build homes for themselves. They had another calculation: maybe they would find Jewish valuables in the walls or in other hiding-places. . .
For us, a whole world was destroyed.
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