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Skarzisk
A General Survey

Editor's Foreword
by Mordecai Shtrigler

After Treblinka, Skarzisk concentration camp incarcerated the most Zwolin Jews, many of whom perished there, especially in the third Transport. Nevertheless, a substantial number of Jews did survive, and for this reason we consider it important to supplement the eyewitness accounts of individual ordeals in Skarzisk with a broader, general survey of this infamous concentration camp. We wish to express our gratitude to the eminent Yiddish author MORDECAI SHTRIGLER for his kind permission to reprint – translate from Yiddish and with some minor changes – parts of his book “In the Factories of Death.”

I

When the German troops marched into Poland in 1939 they found several large textile factories, and heavy industry plants, plus – in the West – a number of munitions plants. The Polish government had produced comparatively small quantities of munitions. It had left the factories in good working order, so that the Germans could immediately continue the manufacture of war material. Thanks to their efficiency, and aided by brutality and coercion of the labor force, they succeeded in expanding and transforming the plants into first-rate war production centers. They were assisted by skilled Polish engineers, who had run the factories in “Polish” days, and who now turned out to be long-time German spies or

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“Volksdeutsche”. They knew every corner of the factories and their technical potential as well as which workers were dependable.

For this reason he factories in Czestochow, Skarzisk, Radom, Kielce, Blizhin, Starechowice, Stolowowalia, Piontki, Ostrowce, and others that were crowded together in the Polish “Central Industrial Area” were of such major importance to the Nazi war machine in its attack on the East.

To the best of my knowledge, most of the factories were immediately taken over b y private enterprises of the German war industry under district government management; among them the “Hermann Goering Werke” and the stock Company of Hugo Schneider (“Iron & Metal Works Hugo Schneider – HASAG”), with main offices in Leipzig. Paul Budin, General Director of all Hasag factories, signed every announcement and order issued from the offices. This survey covers the Hasag Division of Skarzisk, (whose grenades were stamped with the code letters K.A.M.). It must be noted that my account is only a pale reflection of what really went on in the Hasag factories.

 

II

The factory in Skarzisk was divided into 3 sections, which were several kilometers apart. They were called WERK A, WERK B, and WERK C. From the time the Germans invaded Poland until the middle of 1941, these factories employed only Polish forced labor and those who had volunteered in the hopes of not being sent to the labor camps in Germany. In addition, a small number of Jews were brought in daily from Skarzisk proper. But they only worked outside at cleaning up the factory grounds, constructing barracks in the woods around the plants, and similar chores. Jews were not allowed inside the factory premises or put to work manufacturing munitions. They were brought to the plant early in the morning and taken back to the

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ghetto at night. Thus they had no knowledge of the inner workings of the plant.

Not until November 1941 did the SS allow HASAG to round up Jews in various Polish cities and towns and put them to work in the factories. Permission was granted on the basis of an agreement between the SS and various semi-civilian enterprises. According to the rules set down by Reichsminister Dr. Hans Frank, Governor-General of Poland, all Jews must be drafted for forced physical labor for the benefit of the German State. Thus the Jews in the entire region of the so-called General gouvernement (former Polish districts of Warsaw, Kielce, Lublin, Radom, Cracow and later Lemberg) automatically became the slave-property of the SS and the Gestapo. The only firms, factories and enterprises allowed to use Jewish forced labor were those who were granted a quota by the German Labor Office, and who turned over their daily earnings to the SS.

The Gestapo and SS saw in the Jewish labor force an excellent source of revenue, and the firms which “paid” for the privilege of using it therefore tried to squeeze the most work out of the Jews, knowing they were no more than beasts of burden, abandoned and undefended; that when a Jew collapses he can be replaced. Thus the Jew was exploited on all sides. When a Jew was too exhausted to produce the required norm, or he fell ill and stayed out, the factory, realizing that he was not worth the wages demanded for him by the SS, reported him to the “proper authorities”. The SS promptly massacred all these useless “objects”. Every few days there was a factory “selection” of the weak ones. They were led out to the firing range (where new material was tested), and, in a spot set aside for this purpose, were shot and buried. Many Jews were shot and buried deep in the woods on the factory grounds, opposite Section 96 of Werk C. Several hundred Jews were also buried

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in the camp under the barbed wire fence, depending on the method used to kill them.

The Jews tried with all their strength to be useful and productive. This situation was a common one in all concentration camps, but was most evident in Hasag. But let us be chronological.

Early in 1942 a large-scale Action was initiated to send Polish workers to Germany, where war production was in full swing. New factories kept opening, requiring more and more personnel. The HASAG also put dozens more divisions into operation, to which German specialists were sent from Leipzig, resulting in a labor shortage in that city and in other places, which the Germans tried to supplement with forced labor from the occupied territories in the East. Although Jews fell into the category of forced labor they were not sent to Germany. Scattering them in this manner would have interfered with the detailed extermination plan of European Jewry, which called for eventually concentrating them in a huge mass grave – the former Kingdom of Poland. Therefore a number of unskilled workers were weeded out from the Polish and Ukrainian factories and sent to Germany to replace the German workers who had been recruited for the army, or sent to the divisions as specialists. On the other hand, many specialists and factory managers came to the Polish plants – which had become a major factor in the German war economy because of the conflict with Soviet Russia. The HASAG initiated widespread propaganda in addition to its coercive methods, to recruit fresh workers for its factories. In the HASAG publications which later fell into my hands, I found elaborate descriptions of the wonderful and happy life enjoyed by the workers in the richly-forested Eastern regions, which the HASAG affiliates had established. The ammunition factories were mostly in the forest, for protective coloration to shield them from bombing attacks. This time it

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was decided to substitute Jews for the Polish workers in order to send as many Poles as possible to Germany, especially when they began to produce Pikrin and Trotyl on a vast scale. These were toxic chemicals which attacked the heart and lungs, and the Polish workers began to stay away from the plants. Many of these – afraid that the Gestapo would persecute them – fled to the forests and formed Partisan groups. The factory managers realized that the Poles would work more willingly in Germany, and knew they could get Jews for the difficult and dangerous tasks. All that was required was the permission of the Radom Gestapo, who's Chief – Schippers – kept the Jews of his territory as chattel, and the operation of seizing Jews was under way.

 

III

When the big mass deportation “Am Osten” – to the East – began, Jews immediately became aware that this meant the gas chambers. Desperate ghetto inhabitants sought a way to escape. A temporary solution was a job in a labor camp that made munitions. It was believed that those who worked at producing war materials would be spared.

In those days, when the Aussiedlung of Jews started in the Radom-Kielc region, the camp leader of the Skarzisk HASAG – SS Sturmfuehrer Infling – traveled about in all the Jewish towns, and laying the role of a redeeming angel, registered “volunteers:. He confided to a select few that Jews were doomed anyway, and at best the young people would be sent to the dreaded concentration camps. Therefore they could be sure that if they worked in the factories they would be unharmed.

In Sandomierz, for example, he stated:

“Jewish youth, like the rest of the Jews, is doomed. The best they can expect is a slow martyr-death in the concentration
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camps, instead of a quick end in the gas chambers. Even if they are imprisoned in the camps, they won't be able to take any of their belongings with them. Whatever they manage to bring will be confiscated upon their arrival. Even when someone's life is spared, he is first stripped naked. But he, Infling, will allow all those who volunteer to take along their linens and best clothes, food, and even… in secret… money and valuables. They should also bear in mind that here, in the ghetto, everything will be liquidated. They can salvage only what they take along, and they can live under humane conditions. They will be paid a daily wage. His, Infling's workers, do not have to give up civilian garb for prison uniforms. Their heads will not be shaved. And if young women volunteer to work, they can come along and live with their husbands. It is their only solution… the only way they can live like human beings.”
At the beginning his cajoling fell on deaf ears. After small groups of Jews were sent out of each town, the storm abated. Jews in the ghettos emerged from their hiding places, and began to move about and resume trading. They hesitated to make any kind of a change. They were always skeptical of anything the Germans said to begin with, especially when life in the worst ghetto was still more tolerable than even the best concentration camp, they didn't want to think about what would happened next day. As a result, there were few volunteers, and Infling had to come down with his factory police (Werkschutz) and fill his labor quota by force… the customary SS method of enlisting the aid of the Judenrat. The Jewish police of every ghetto had to supply a required contingent of Jewish men for the HASAG factories.

Jews of Sandomierz told me that the Judenrat began by weeding out criminals and suspicious characters who were a threat to the community, as well as persons with whom the Judenrat had a personal reckoning. The remainder were

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recruited from the poor elements who had no money with which to bribe the Judenrat. These people, knowing they had nothing to lose anyway, and that in the event of any catastrophe they would be the first victims, either volunteered, or didn't resist when the police came for them. This situation was common to many towns in that region.

Gradually, rumors began to drift down from Lublin, where the “Judenrein” Action first started, in such a cruel and vicious manner that any glimmer of hope concerning Jewish destiny was extinguished. It froze the blood in one's veins, and the atmosphere became oppressive with the threat of death for everyone. At that time more and more people volunteered for work, hoping to stay alive.

The registration center for volunteers was the German Labor Headquarters in Ostrowce, near Kielce. Special buses were placed at the disposal of the volunteers, so they could take their belongings to their new HASAG home. Everyone was in a state of agitation because of the turmoil. It was clear that in a few days all the towns would be liquidated. Not a sign of them would remain.

Fathers and mothers who found it impossible to leave their homes, or who were incapable of working because of their age, watched with tear-filled eyes as the buses, under police guard, removed all their precious possessions, which they had acquired after years of toil, hope and sweat. There was no strength to sob aloud; their eyes asked the unspoken question: “Will we ever meet again?” Some households decided, after long deliberation, that the younger family members should go to HASAG and the others remain in the ghetto for the present. If conditions in HASAG were bad, at least there would be someone in the ghetto to send food and clothing. And should anyone make a getaway he would have a refuge to return to, unless nobody was alive anymore. And, on the other hand, if

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the situation in the ghetto got “hot”, let there be a family member in HASAG who knows the ins and outs and could try to take in relatives and survivors, or even rescue them from the death transports… Thus the ghetto inhabitants everywhere spent days in panic, confused terror, and sober, rational calculation: how to rescue at least one family member.

 

IV

In May, 1942, thousands of Jewish prisoners and volunteers began to stream into the Skarzisk HASAG from Bodzentin, Rakev, Stopnice, Apt, Poksziwnice, Stashew, Zwolin, and other towns.

Upon their arrival they were subjected to a thorough search by the Germans, Ukrainian and Polish Secret Police, who confiscated whatever struck heir fancy. However, they did not take everything, in order to lure those who came later. They knew that the ghetto inhabitants, who maintained constant contact with their relatives in the camp via underground mail, would certainly rush to come here if their own situation became unbearable, and would bring all their belongings with them, because “something would be left after the search…” and eventually it would remain in HASAG anyway.

The SS and Secret Police had other plans for exploiting the Jews. The first was the announcement that everyone is entitled to receive clothing and food from home. The prisoners wrote to their relatives, telling them to give the packages to the Secret Police, who traveled around in the towns especially for this purpose. The concentration camp Jews were well aware of their benefactors' intentions; but they also knew what could happen to their possessions at home within days or weeks… Therefore anything they could salvage would be to their advantage. Nobody was able, or even wanted to think about the near future

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which would bring down the worst punishment on those who took advantages of such an opportunity.

Every few days big trucks with Secret police drove into the ghetto, seized whatever they could lay their hands on and brought it back to the camp. In order to gain the trust of the camp inmates, they took several of them along on every trip, to agitate among the townspeople to give more and more. The Secret police were given costly gifts so that “they should treat the Jews better”. Later they searched through all the packages, taking the valuables, and tasty food. But the Jews, who got most of their things back, were anxious to go to the ghetto as often as possible. Even those inmates whose home towns had been completely demolished wanted to salvage as much as possible of their possessions. The “best” way to accomplish this was to go to their vacated or Polish-occupied houses with a Secret Police officer and offer a bribe to allow them to look for their hidden gold or money, and take it back with them… already at that time some Jews were executed, but in general they were not treated too brutally. It turned out that if you had money and valuables for which you could buy food from the Poles and Werschutz, you could survive until times change…if they ever do. The Werkschutz knew everyone who possessed anything of value, and kept an eye on him, to be able to take advantage at the first possible opportunity.

 

VI

The General Director of all three Skarzisk factories was SS Standartenfuehrer Dolski. In Poland he had been an army colonel. In peace time he was director of the same government-owned ammunitions factory and was solely to blame for all that went on there now. (Both he and Budin were captured by the Americans in May, 1945 in Thueringen). The head of the

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Werkschutz-Leiter was Hauptsturmfuehrer Krause. Early in 1944 he was replaced by Sturmfuehrer Polmer. At that time the Chiefs of Security were Battenschleger (who remained in Czestochow HASAG until the last moment) and SS Lt. Eisenschmitz. They were aided by civilian leader Heinrich who was head of the “Judeneinsatz”. All these, together with others whom I will describe later, carried out the major crimes in Werk A and partly in Werk C. They organized an apparatus of Jewish police which had its own commandants and a Lagerael-testen. At first the commandant of Werk A was Saltzman, a Jew from Lemberg. Later he was shot by the SS. Police commandant was the Radom Jew Teperman (who perished together with Kzepitski, later commandant of Werk A, and other Jewish provocateurs, at the hands of the secret Jewish organization in Buchenwald, in August 1944). The Jewish police in A started with 30 officers and ended with a staff of 70. Its function was to patrol the camp at night – supplementing the regular guards; distributing food; bringing the workers to their jobs on time and in the required number; and frequently assigning workplaces. After the SS and the Werkschutz they were the most powerful people in the camp. There were also Jews on the administrative staff of the camp – in charge of provisions, clothing, and similar functions. Their assistants were the Jewish foremen and second-rank camp functionaries. The SS frequently used them for its criminal purposes. It must be noted that the Jewish police and commandants were recruited mainly from those who had been the first to come to the camp. Being seasoned residents, they knew all the ins and outs, and whom to “butter up” in order to further their own careers. As I mentioned before, the criminal element was the first to be sent out of the ghettos, and the big and small towns, and as a result they were the first to “put o the policeman's cap”. Another reason was that they could carry out all the SS orders with a clear conscience. They were the right men in the right place.

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They were joined by certain assimilated Jewish intellectuals who had always regarded the Jewish masses with contempt, and it was easy for them to torture them or even send them to their death. These were the common traits of many of the policemen in the various ghettos and camps.

Suffice it to offer a few examples of the cross–section of the HASAG population:

The city of Apt, near Kielce was ordered to send 700 people to HASAG. Since the Judenrat could not fill this quota, the police guards themselves seized whomever they could lay their hands on, including many children aged 10–12, and dragged them along. (Due to this accidental occurrence a small number of these children passed through several concentration camps and were subsequently rescued.)

Of the abovementioned group, 70 were still alive in August, 1944. This represented the greatest proportion, because the inhabitants of Apt were able to smuggle out more money, and stood up better in general. The other transports with thousands of people were decimated within a short time. Only a handful survived.

The “exodus” of the Jews who still remained in the Skarzisk ghetto took place on October 3, 1942. They were all driven into one place, and the healthy men and women – the “protected” ones – were separated from the rest. On that day Battenschleger and Eisenschmitz carried out the first mass selection in Werk A. Of the 4,000 Jews, they weeded out about 1,000, with the aid of the factory guards and German civilian police. The chosen ones were exhausted from their hard work, haggard, and shabbily dressed. They were taken out into the forest in the direction of Werk C. On the way several hundred were shot by machine guns by the factory police, and the others were brought to the collection spot in the ghetto. That day they were sent to

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Treblinka together with the Jews of Skarzisk. They were replaced in the camp by young, healthy men and women, who had been selected there. (Information given by Yosl Goldberg, born in Skarzisk in 1926.)

 

VII

After that, treatment of the Jews in the camp changed. A reign of terror began. There were thorough searches, during which anything of value was taken away. Very often work was halted, the Jews were driven into one large factory room and each of them was searched.

Nobody ever left anything in the barracks, because in those crowded conditions things vanished. Everyone carried his bundles to work and back, making it easy for the searcher to confiscate anything that pleased his fancy. The search action was conducted by the abovementioned Heinrich.

Prior to the search there was an announcement that everyone should surrender his money, gold, and valuables. Whoever tries to hide anything will be shot on the spot. After Battenschleger carried out several executions many prisoners surrendered his money voluntarily. The psychology of bloodshed blots out thoughts of the future. One becomes concerned only with what is going on in the present. “If we survive”, they consoled themselves, “there will be other money”. On the other hand, many Jews realized that to be in HASAG without any valuables condemned them to death anyway, but in a more terrible way. So they kept their possessions… They hid their money in the most unimaginable places, enabling them to buy a piece of bread from the Polish skilled workers for large sums of money in order to keep their strength up. There were some envious ones who spied on those who had bread, and betrayed them to the Werkschutz. The unfortunate prisoner was taken

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into the German guardhouse (Werkstube) and tortured so savagely and so long that he finally gave up not only his money but his soul. Very often he had to reveal the names of his friends who also possessed valuables.

There were some among the Werkschutz who murdered masses of Jews with their own hands. Thus the Ukrainian Ivaniko and his friend Kozlovsky massacred 1,000 Jews during their service in HASAG. They did this for various reasons, but mainly because they wanted to kill. There were other barbarians like the Werkshutz Schneider (German), CHAPEK (Ukrainian), the Savtchuk brothers (Polish) and dozens of others whose names I could not determine. The first two only shot those – officially – who looked bad and were regarded as being unable to work (in order to “look bad” it was enough to wear torn clothing). But they also slaughtered many strong, healthy–looking young men who were well–dressed… because – if they look so hale and hearty it meant they had money. The good boots or jacket became the Angel of Death. Thus the Jews were between two fires. They were terrified of looking skinny and ugly… but it was worse if they looked too good. There were many victims among those who could not find the middle road.

At this time the news spread in the Radom district that the Germans were planning to establish four new “Judenstaedte” in the area. The official announcements stated that all Jews who were hiding illegally in various cities and towns, in villages or forests, could safely report to these specially–assigned Jewish towns, where “the last remnants will live in safety and close to each other”. This cunning ruse was used by the Germans throughout occupied Poland. It was a refined Gestapo plan to lure the Jews from their hiding places and concentrate them in one place, so as to make it easier to annihilate them later on. Four cities in the Radom district were set aside for this purpose: Radomsk, Szydlowiec, Oyedzd and Sandomierz. Ostensibly they

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were intended for eventual actions against Jews. But the Jews who were in hiding had little faith in the promises of the Gestapo, so the refined murderers decided to leave these towns in peace…

In these places throughout Poland there were organized once again Judenrat with Jewish police and all the paraphernalia of a ghetto – as in the “good old days” before the first transports… The Gestapo and German police seemed to decrease their vigilance of these newly–formed cities; security at the ghetto gates was lessened and it was easy for peasants to sneak in from their villages with a little food. As a result trade began to blossom once again; the inhabitants began to earn money, and people began to put their lives together… They forget or seemed to forget, the catastrophe of a month ago, managed to find a chair, a table, and somehow furnish a home.

Hans Frank, the despotic ruler of Poland, gave a speech in Cracow, reporting on the various administrative problems of his domain, and stated among others:

“There are no more Jews to be seen in the General government… and if there are any, they are not irresponsible, who sucked the blood of our German workers! Today they themselves are working…”

The eternal optimist in the Jewish soul revived… Jews started to believe that world–conscience had finally been aroused… that Hitler had no doubt received an ultimatum… “as a result of various threats”, “he” had promised not to send any more Jews to their death, and to treat them humanely… these and similar rumors and conjectures circled around the founding of the Jew–cities, which the Gestapo intentionally disseminated and supported…

German Gestapo officers had “their” Jews to whom they confided “everything”, sworn to secrecy, or the informer would get

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a bullet in the head. They “had also heard about this” in the top echelon… They laughed to themselves, knowing that within a half hour everyone in the ghetto would be talking about it… and this would dissolve the last shreds of caution – in the face of the imminent danger.

And even those who were at first skeptical of these circulating “secrets”, gradually came to believe that something had changed, seeing that a week, then two weeks passed and all was quiet in the ghetto…

The establishment of the Judenstadt had an even more hypnotic effect on the camp inmates. If they had previously endured suffering with the resigned awareness that there was no other alternative, now the ghettos tempted and enticed them like enchanted worlds… There were rumors that there were still Jews in Radom and other towns… They live like free men… so it means, that those who had lost their lives – were gone… but the survivors would live to see the end of the war… so why stay here?

Famished and exhausted living in filth and excrement under threat of the whip – these allegations were like an intoxicating drink. Rumors flew from mouth to mouth, on the wings of fantasy, that “God had taken pity on the last remnants of his people”, and that “in the gates of SHIDLOWCE He gave them all the bread they could eat”. So: Why remain here among the doomed?

There began a mass escape from the camp. Many were caught enroute by the Germans, or found by Poles, who brought them to the Germans, where they were shot… Life in the camp became so intolerable that many sought salvation on the other side of the barbed wires, with one percent of hope to reach nearby SHIDLOWCE or the distant town of SANDOMIERZ where they could “legalize” themselves.

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Battenschleger – following CC rules – took 10 hostages for every fugitive. At first he would line up the whole camp after each escape, choose some of the handsomest and youngest youths, and gun them down on the spot as a warning. It did not help, it only intensified the escape–psychosis. Hundreds were shot on the roads, and still hundred more followed after. It was enough to hear that someone had not returned to the barracks that night – and thousands of hearts quivered with yearning on their hard pallets…

The Judenrat fell into a panic. Even when one of the fugitives was able to reach the ghetto of a Judenstadt, they were afraid to register him officially. In some cases, the Jewish police returned the fugitives to the Germans, for fear that “they would bring disaster on the community”.

The Werkschutzen: Ivaniko, Kozlowsky and Schneider used to select better–dressed Jews, or those who looked as though they might have money. (They were aided by several Jewish informers). They called out the suspects, took them over to the barbed wires, “shot them while trying to escape”, and took all their possessions.

Some of the Werkschutzen used the escape–psychosis in another way:

They made friends with the new arrivals. These transports were usually assigned the most difficult work, and did not last long. Therefore they were the first to think of making a get–away. There were dealers among the Poles – and some Jews – who sought out a “friendly” Werkschutz who was willing, for several thousand zlotys, to help a prisoner escape over the barbed wire. The fugitive had to make sure exactly where the guard would wait for him.

These plans usually ended the same way:

The money was paid to the Werkschutz. At night the Jew

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sneaked over to the barbed wires and checked with the guard to make sure he had gotten the right amount of money. Then they bade each other a “heartfelt” farewell. At the Werkschutz posted himself 10 paces away from the wires in order to make sure nobody was watching, while the Jew slowly approached the fence. But… at the last moment an unexpected bullet in the head stopped him from jumping over.

Afterward the Werkschutz was awarded honorary mention and a short vacation with spending money for capturing a Jew who was trying to escape.

In January 1943, there was a typhoid epidemic in the camp, and the sick were placed in a separate barracks, where they lay without medical aid or attention, in their own dirt and excrement, until they perished. There was nobody to dispose of the corpses; they remained among the living for many days and stank up the barracks. Then Battenschleger took it upon himself to eradicate the epidemic. With his own hands, he shot over 100 of the victims and ordered the Werkschutz to shoot anyone who had the slightest symptoms. Thus, many people were gunned down going to and from work. It was enough for a Werkschutz to notice a faltering step or a suspicious lethargy. Battenschleger also ordered a list of those who had been sick, and had recovered. This was the duty of the German civilian guards who knew which people did not show up for work for a few days. The guard Dumin was especially zealous at finding these unfortunates. All these healthy, strong men were taken to Werk C to be executed, and Battenschleger himself gunned down more than all the Werkschutz put together. After that even the sickest people dragged themselves to work, until they dropped on the way…

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VIII

There was always between 4–7,000 people in Werk A, half of whom were women. With the exception of a handful of privileged middle–aged or elderly women (mothers or mothers–in–law of a commandant, policeman or functionary), they were all very young and on the average between 16–35 years of age. Each one had been selected several times, so that the majority were healthy and beautiful. There was much sexual abuse by German and Polish guards, as well as Jewish commandants, and demoralization was inevitable in these dreadful, chaotic conditions. Here is only one example.

On January 3, 1943, all the “big shots” in the camp administration held a celebration. After a long night of heavy drinking, Battenschleger and Eisenschmitz appeared in the camp. It was 12 noon, and the women who worked on the night shift were still asleep. The two drunkards entered the women's barracks and woke everyone up. They ordered all the women to form a line, half–naked – and searched among them, finally selecting the 3 prettiest: Milchman from Suchedniow; Zierberberg from Apt and a third, name unknown. They didn't allow the women to put anything on, but led them, naked, through the camp to their private quarters. There they were made to undress completely, and were raped over and over. About four in the afternoon, Battenschleger took two women into the woods – naked – and shot them. He called two camp inmates, told them to bury the victims and then dig a fresh grave… At night, he brought out the third woman, whom he also shot. (As told by my friend Baruch Goldberg). This was only one of dozens of similar incidents in Werk A & B, which were verified by reliable witnesses. But I want to recount what I saw with my own eyes:

There were many cases where Werkschutz members, guards

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and other officials selected Jewish women, had intimate relations with them for a short or longer period of time, and then either shot them themselves, or sent them to Werk C. My heart still aches when I stir up this – our most horrendous shame.

For example, a guard in Werk B chose the prettiest girl in the factory. He put her to work as a cleaning woman in his office and used her sexually for a long time. When she became pregnant… he waited until there was a selection of a large group of sick, worn out, and half–naked women and cold–bloodedly shoved her in among them. She threw herself at his feet, kissed his gleaming boots, imploring him to spare her life. She reminded him that she was only 21 years old, and was still fresh and healthy… In her confusion, she reminded him, in a loud voice, that only yesterday he had caressed her – why is he condemning her today? He smiled crookedly and replied cynically: “There you'll be better off, Jewess!” He took his revolver and in front of everyone he shot the “accursed hysterical Jewess”.

I know of many such cases. Not all of them ended in death.

 

IX

Werk A was the largest of the three and had the most Jews (4–7,000). Next was Werk C with its cruelty and an average of 1,500–3,000 Jews. The smallest was Werk B; 5–800 Jews (The figures fluctuated because of the fatalities and it depended on how many fresh transports were brought in.)

The “paradise” of all camps was Werk A. Everyone dreamed of going there. In comparison with Werk C, conditions there were really “fantastically good”. But the slightest misdemeanor was punishable by shooting or worse: transfer to Werk C and working at the manufacture of Pikrin or Trotyl.

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The camp in Werk A was located on the road into town. Through the barbed wires one could see wagons, buses, and people walking. This intensified the yearning for freedom, but also was a comfort because it meant that one still maintained if only visually, contact with the outside world. One was still in the world, and could see it. Only the barbed wires were a barrier. Werk C, on the other hand, was shut away deep in the forest. Not far from Camp A, there were various stores and the “Hasag” bakery. One could frequently manage to sneak out, with one of the policemen, to buy something and smuggle it into the camp. The factory was larger and more civilians worked there. Most of them had come in through “pull” to Werk A where the work was easier and cleaner. They brought a good lunch from home and did not eat the factory soup. The Jews who helped them at their work were rewarded with their soup portion and sometimes a piece of bread. Thanks to this, many of them lasted longer. In Werk C, however, these things were rare.

Since there were more intellectuals in Werk A, who had wider contacts and social relationships, it was possible, for a high price, to enlist their aid in contacting a distant family, or even a gentile, with whom one could hide possessions. Here, too, there were robberies and treason, but it helped many to stay alive.

In Werk A the workers were kindlier than the Polish workers in C, who beat hundreds of Jews to death. The Poles in A were still mostly green themselves and concerned with filling their quota. Some brought bread to sell or mailed a letter with an “Aryan” signature. Sometimes they were caught and sent to a concentration camp. The Pole Novak from Skarzisk was publicly hanged for bringing bread to the factory to sell to Jews.

Since nobody wanted to starve to death, they gave away their last possessions for bread; they took advantage of every

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possibility to get something through written solicitations, promises of freedom in the future… The Poles were tempted by the high bribes and took risks smuggling letters and bread. This was the situation when I arrived in June, 1943.

During the first half of 1943, the Germans began to build Werk C and transform it into a huge factory. Jews from Skarzisk were employed in this construction. One of the first – Zayonts – a Jew from Lodz, supervised the project until the last minute. In December, 1941, the first transports of captured Jews provided by the communities arrived. These Jews worked in the forest – commando, cutting down old trees in the dense Skarzisk woods to clear the area for new factories and the “Judenlager”. The first few hundred Jews had temporary sleeping quarters in the big factory barracks. Their daily diet consisted of 20 Decos of bread and liter watery soup. The filth created an army of lice which ate people alive. The factory management did not provide for basic needs of the Jews. Let the Jews do their job and never mind what happened to them. Inside work lay in Jewish hands; there were only two gendarmes from the city police who kept an eye on the Jews.

Sometime later, a Werkschutz was organized, consisting of German, Ukrainian, and Polish guards. The construction supervisor at that time was Engineer Schmitz from Leipzig. He also supervised the building of a new railway from Werk A to C, as well as of barracks for his special factory division.

German Labor Administration in Ostrowce provided Jewish save–workers to all factories in the “Central Industrial Region”. From there, the Jewish contingents were sent to the various munitions centers. The representative of the inspector in the local labor office was Zeifman. He knew the plans being made for the Jews, and agitated among ghetto inhabitants to register voluntarily in the camp, even for the worst jobs! (This demand method was unique – and limited only to that region.

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Generally Jews were never asked, and never told beforehand what to do…)

“The only Jews who survive”, he added quietly, “will be the ones in the munitions factories… they will be the last Jews”. (Quote from Engineer Jacob Kurtz of Warsaw, who was brought from Stashew. He died in Buchenwald after liberation.)

The Jewish ghettos now came face to face with reality. Previously everyone had hidden out, even built deep bunkers, so as not to be caught and put to work. But the political situation indicated that the war would last a long time, and events in all the small towns convinced that the ghettos would not last long. It was clear that not the bunker but getting out of the ghetto was the way to survive! There were more volunteers than were demanded. The Judenrat was the intermediary between the Jews and the Labor Office. The community saw in this a source of revenue. They started to ask for higher and higher prices for the limited number of jobs available. Vast sums of money began to flow into the pockets of the “fixers” in the Judenrat and officials of the Labor Office in Ostrowce. They were forced to bribe the inspector with increasing amounts of money and god so that he should find jobs for the ghetto Jews.

Towards the end, some wealthy Jews, realizing that their palaces would collapse and their money would be taken anyway, begged the Judenrat that instead of distributing their money to the poor and needy, which would not save them anyway, it should be given to the Labor Office, to convince the German factories that it was important for them to hire Jewish workers. This would keep them safe for a while, I know of several such cases of charity.

Everyone wanted the best of the worst for his money. There were factories like the “Hermann Goering Works” on Stara–

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chowice, where the Jews initially lived in town in decent dwellings, while Jews in Skarzisk were dying of famine and filth. Therefore, everyone wanted to be in Piontko, Blizhin, rather than Skarzisk, where life had no value anyway. Only volunteers went to Skarzisk. The Labor Office, however, for business reasons, preferred the slave labor to go through their hands rather than be caught and coerced, and up to the last minute, Jews tried to make the better choice:

“For the same money, one could live like a human being”.

Still, many didn't want to leave the ghetto, where life had become carefree and abandoned.

“What will be, will be”, many said, having resigned themselves to dying. “At least let it happen here, in my own bed”…

“I don't want to be gunned down in the woods, wearing rags infested with lice”, some pessimists added. But there were many candidates eager to work in the factories.

To illustrate the situation before I came to Werk C, I will repeat what was told to me by my late friend Engineer Jacob Kurtz of Warsaw. I will only quote a few facts, as a tribute to this remarkably interesting Jewish personality.

Kurtz told me:

“In our Stashev, as in all the towns around, there was great turmoil. We tried to find a means of escaping our inevitable doom – the fate of most Jews, and decided to buy our way into Starachowice. The Judenrat had already set aside a large sum for this purpose; our group of 280 paid 280 zlotys each. The money was accepted in Ostrowce with the assurance that we would be sent there. The next day, three trucks marked “Hasag” rolled into our ghetto. None of us knew what this signified, nor did we realize that there had been a change. We were loaded into the vehicles with our bundles and we set out

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toward Apt – where we learned that we were being taken to Skarzisk. We were terrified. Could they be returning us to Werk C? But we were helpless.

In Skarzisk we were taken into a big factory building where we awaited our destiny. Toward evening, the Standartenfuehrer and General Director Dolski came to see us, with his arrogant and cynical smile. He was accompanied by Krause, Chief of the Werkschutz, and 20–30 members of the Officer's Division “S.A. – Sturm 102”, which was billeted near the factory. Triumphantly, Dolski roared:

“So… you're here at least!”

Then he took out his Browning revolver and said:

“You have three minutes to surrender all your possessions: gold, coins, dollars, watches… I know you are loaded… In three minutes each of you will be searched… and then, it'll be tough on anyone who tries to hide even the smallest amount. And death is not the worst”.

Pointing the revolver with a dramatic gesture he left, looking at the clock. Then Krause and the other epauletted officers each took a turn exhorting us. From their rapid, hysterical words, we made out: money… gold… dollars! Dollars! And they kept repeating: “We'll shoot you like dogs!”

Within minutes, they had filled a whole box of gold and money belonging to the 280 Stashev men, who tossed their money like madmen, discarding the gold as if it was poison, a glittering menace. The mere sight of the uniforms made it understandable. With some it was the result of lightning–fast calculation: the enemy must be sated. Let there be as much as possible in the box. Then they might not want to search each one separately… and one could keep what had been deeply hidden. But afterwards, there was an hours–long search. The

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bundles were pierced through, and more things were found and confiscated. Later, we were taken into another section. Outside the factory, guards put us through our paces for several hours. They made us run, fall, get up, run again and fall again. If one of us was wearing a good suit or boots, he was stripped and left half–naked and barefoot. Finally we were taken into another factory section opposite. Through the windows we saw groups of Jews being led out into the brightly–lit yard. Thousands of men and women arrived, and were herded naked into the factory. After an hour, some were driven outside, and others took their place.

Afterwards it turned out that this was a routine, normal. Search in which the Jews from all three Werks were brought together. Somehow, we got through the night, although the Werkschutz broke in several times looking for victims to rob everything from. Brutal beatings were common. In the morning, Dolski returned with yesterday's retinue and the robbing game was repeated. Finally, Dolski commanded:

“Take 200 men out on the veranda!” Until the last minute we didn't know that we were being taken to Werk C”.

This is a description of daily events, and occurred in September 1942. It reflects the capture of the last remaining Jews, their being uprooted from the ghettos in that particular territory, and of the entry conditions into “Hasag” – the plunge onto the jaws if death”.

 

XII

As noted, Jews were not allowed inside the factories. Some built barracks and the majority – 900 men –– worked in the forest commando. In September 1942, the first 40 men from Stashev were chosen for the most dangerous jobs. They were

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the youngest and the strongest, and they worked at producing Trotil, an explosive for grenades. When it turned out that these Jews were highly qualified, more and more Jews were put to work inside the factory.

Only smaller numbers of Poles remained as supervisors, foremen and skilled craftsmen.

For a short time the camp administrator was the guard Schneider, a “Good–natured” German, to whom you could talk. But when he flew into a rage, which he did easily – he would not let go until his victim fell dead. Thrashing was his favorite sport. A supervisor of the forest crew was the fiend Zimmerman (nicknamed “The Green Jacket”). He himself annihilated over 1,000 Jews. His method: he came to work and observed the people from a distance. It didn't help that he was seen coming and the men worked with their last ounce of strength. He had to have victims every day.

He would call out the unfortunate man and order: Bow! Then he would calmly proceed to whip him with a thin branch. He aimed well – at the spinal cord… often supplemented by a few shots. He loved to see his victim twisting from side to side in mortal agony. He was a specialist in thrashing and after an hour, every bone was broken. He listened in savage ecstasy to every moan, scream, and death–rattle. Thus he walked among the rows of workers, picking out victims.

Frequently, he appeared in the camp, selected a few people, took them to the firing range and shot them. Later he came for others. The second group walked with resignation and terror to their doom and on the way he harassed them with questions:

He would ask one:

“Tell me, are you afraid of me?”

A “brave lad” would take heart and reply:

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“Why would I be afraid of you? You're a human being”.

For this answer, he was rewarded with a savage thrashing:

“You dare deny that you're scared? You stupid ass! You're asking “why?” Don't you know me? You're not afraid of me? Of me? Here's yours, and get to know me!”

The next one wo said he was afraid, also gets a beating:

“Why should you be afraid of me? Am I an animal? A vampire? What?!”

The second group had to bury those whom he had shot before. Until the last minute nobody knew if the grave he was digging was for someone else or for himself. Then he commanded that those who had just been beaten should be given the money that belonged to the dead; told them to remove the shoes, trousers, shirts and pullovers from the copses. Afterwards he brought them back from the firing range himself; led them into the kitchen, told them to fill up pots of food and run with them back to camp.

His greatest delight was in knowing that he aroused terror, that he was the master who determined who should live and who should die. A devilish smile played on his lips when he saw all the backs bent in feverish hat at his approach. His favorite pastime was to enter the camp and see everyone run out in panic, but his greatest joy was when he could grab one of them and say one word:

“Come!”

A particularly bloody chapter was written by his Polish foremen and aides. The Pole Kotlengo, a foreman and assistant, whom he assigned to distribute the food rations – was responsible for hundreds of deaths.

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XIII

Werk C gobbled up one transport after the other. Jews were brought from most distant regions: Plotsk, Pietrikov, Klimentov, Radomiszl, Bilic, Lodz, etc. The toil rapidly devoured everyone's strength and endurance. Transports were brought from everywhere. Even the youngest and healthiest prisoners were soon destroyed by the hopeless conditions. They could not change their clothes; those who were lucky, washed their shirts in a little cold water. Most couldn't do even that, and were covered with unbearable, dreadful dirt. They slept on a handful of moldy straw, or a hard board. They didn't change their clothes for months, and suffered from the inevitable lice and typhoid. There was no medical aid, except for two untrained but “privileged” young men who served as official male nurses. Their main job was to draw up lists of the sick for frequent selections. They had no gauze with which to provide “legal” aid by bandaging minor wounds and bruises, leaving everything to nature. Those who dragged themselves to work still could not avoid the piercing eye of the prison guard – Kisling – who sent whole groups of the sick to the firing range every week. Masses of inmates tried to escape to another camp, Kielce, Ostrowce, or at least to Werk A – but they usually were caught and put to death. I know of a few cases of successful getaways to another camp. This was one of the most eventful chapters in C.

I will illustrate Kisling's reaction to these escapes with one incident told me by my comrades of Sandomierz:

A spring day in Werk C. The night shift is on its way to work. Each one grabs his bread and bitter “coffee”, chewing quickly in order to be finished before they are driven out. Suddenly, a whistle! Aha – something has happened again. Is it about the group from Sandomierz who ran away last night?…

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All the groups are lined up, but they aren't leaving yet! Something is evidently going to happen. Kisling is seen approaching, accompanied by the Werk Investigator – Zonder – and several Werkschutz. He says something to the Jewish commandant, Eisenberg. The latter is confused, relays the message to the Jewish police, and immediately dozens of Policemen's voices begin to shout from all sides!

“The Tsoizmer (people of Sandomierz) step out!”

Everyone knows what will happen now. A group of boys forms a row, separate from the others. The natives of Tsoizmer are the strongest and handsomest in the camp. They are succeeded in hiding some money, in spite of the searches. They maintain secret contact with the remaining Jews in Tsoizmer, who send them money and supplies from time to time – making it easier for them to survive and have a better appearance.

Kisling stands rigid glaring at the straight, erect row through fiendish–clouded eyes.

“Nine… Ten…” his finger pauses at a heroic granite–like form. “Three steps forward!” The young man makes three strides and remain standing motionless.

“18 19 20” Now the 21st youth. “30

“18… 19… 20…” Now the 21st youth. “30… 50… 70…” as though an unseen, mystical hand was directing the cynical game, manipulating the numbers and hypnotizing the handsomest Tsoizmer sons out of the line. Everyone harbored the same thoughts:

“Will he really… everyone's eyes caress – as though in farewell – the splendid young men in the row opposite. Now everyone has an opportunity to admire them for the last time. Such

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giants! Such valiant men… The sudden gesture of a hand interrupts the weaving of thoughts.

“Band–bang–bang!” The erect figures drop to the ground like felled marble statues.

Back to work!” Everyone must march past the spot where ten still warm, gunned down bodies lie, the last, proud remnant of annihilated Jewish youth.

“1–2–3”. As he does every day, the Jewish policeman at the gates counts the groups as they march out. This time they walk with deeply–bowed heads.

 

XIV

The Lageraelteste Markovitch, who was the chief of Werk C, was an exceptionally–complicated Jewess. Her assistant was her brother–in–law Eisenberg, whose wife and child were also inmates. A third brother–in–law was in charge of food distribution. He too had his wife and two children, as well as the mother of all three sisters who managed to save themselves. They lived together in a separate barracks and were the only family in the camp. These barracks were sarcastically called: The White House. Opposite was the residence of the police and various commandants. It was a division of the special police whose function it was to maintain order within the camp. The other group – the factory police – was divided according to the factory sections. Every police division had its commander, who wore special stars on his cap. All these functionaries enjoyed unlimited power within the camp, were better dressed and lived better. There were groups of favored people who held preferred jobs, where they could trade and earn money. Some were under the protection of a German foreman and had access to various privileges and benefits. They lived separately, were arrogant, and avoided the hungry

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and exhausted inmates, unless they had to buy from one of them his last gold tooth. This sect, including the police, numbered about 2–300 men. They had a certain amount of security, were protected from selections and never went hungry. In comparison with the others, they lived in profligate luxury. They had affairs with women or girls who wanted to improve their situation, and who could be bought for a piece of bread, meat, a dress, or a better factory job.

* * *

I was not one of the first in the Skarzisk camp; so I cannot estimate how many Jews suffered a slow, tortuous death.

In the final, horrendous days before the camp was liquidated, Mrs. Markovitch, the female commandant, gave me a figure of 50,000 dead (including those who escaped and were shot on the roads). I believe, as a result of my own research, that this total is exaggerated. On the other hand, David Anulevitch, last Secretary of the Camp office of Werk C, told me he had counted the list of names (prior to the last slaughter) of those who “died” or were “shot while escaping” and concluded that Werk C alone had an official total of 21,000 dead. In my time I only met individuals from dozens of transports and have lost the exact amount of their groups. In the middle of May when all Jew–reservoirs had been exhausted, there was only one solution for the factory administration: Maidanek. Thus we were brought from Maidanek to Skarzisk on June 28. This was one of the few transports that left Maidanek alive. On November 3, 1943, the remaining 22,000 Jews in Maidanek were shot on the site…

 

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