by Dawid Liwer
Translated by Lance Ackerfeld
Auschwitz was the largest of the death camps in which millions of Jews from all over Europe together with Russians, Poles and Czechs were incinerated. Due to the fact that Auschwitz is located not far from Zagłębie, the Jews of this region were the first victims of the Nazi beast and a hundred thousand residents from here, were suffocated in the gas chambers.
Despite the stringent supervision, the oppressive administration and the hard labor, the Auschwitz inmates managed to organize an underground movement. Initially, it took the form of an underground activity for those who were brave enough to run away from the camp and there were quite a few of these.
However, most of them were caught and brought back, though nonetheless, several managed to survive. Later on, the Underground purchased weapons and prepared itself for a mass rebellion. Not all of the insurgent activity is known, since most of them were discovered, beforehand, by the Germans and the participants murdered. The following is a description of individual activities in which the people of Będzin, interned in Auschwitz, were involved.
In Block no. 7 in Birkenau the Jews incarcerated there were destined to be gassed. On the 30th of December 1943, as the doors were opened, in order to lead them out to their death, fifteen Jewish inmates attacked the SS men with their bare hands, they injured the Germans and bit them. The murderers called for assistance, and the rebels were executed.
At the end of October, Jews were brought to Auschwitz from Warsaw, and these had furnished themselves with false American citizenship papers. In the beginning the Germans placed them in the Palski Hotel and the Jews were certain that they would be exchanged for Germans who were citizens of enemy countries. However, their hope was unavailing, since they were expelled to death camps, in particular, Auschwitz.
These American groups, that numbered 1750 people, were brought to Auschwitz in October 1943. They were immediately ordered to undress and were taken to the crematorium. One woman refused to undress in front of the SS soldiers and when the parade commander, Schillinger, forcibly tried to take her clothes off, she slapped his face. She managed to wrestle his gun from his hand, shot and killed him. Other women seeing her heroic act also rebelled, and wounded several SS men. After a short struggle these brave women fell from bullets fired from Nazi machine guns.
In 1943 secret cells were established who were in contact with people from outside, who managed to smuggle guns into the camp. In the beginning, these were small groups of Jews, Frenchmen and Czechs, but in September 1944 the Underground numbered 160 activists and 280 organized inmates, most of them Jews.
An open rebellion, however, as was planned by the camp Underground did not transpire, since events moved at lightning speed, the Underground didn't have the capability of carrying out their plans. The Sonderkommando carried out the individual cases of revolt that occurred in Auschwitz, those wretched inmates who were compelled to deal with the victims of the gas chambers. The inmates who were taken to carry out this terrible forced labor, participated in this work for three months only, since after that time they were killed in order to conceal all traces of evidence, and in their place came others, and so it continued. They were isolated and locked up to prevent them from coming in contact with people from outside. In every unit of the Sonderkommando, there was a desire kindled to rebel and take revenge, however, the Germans always pre-empted them and they were wiped out before they could accomplish anything.
When time after time the date of the rebellion was deferred, the Jewish inmates began, seeing that their end was near, to pressure the leaders into beginning the planned rebellion. Even though the Underground leaders knew that the time was not ripe for the uprising, they gave their informal agreement, to the men of the Sonderkommando to allow them to act on their own initiative and own risk.
The first plan was to blow up all four incinerators in Birkenau, but their plan was discovered hours only before its undertaking, and as punishment the Germans decided to expedite the execution of the rebels.
On Saturday, the 3rd of October 1944, the SS soldiers took the 300 Sonderkommando workers, in order to execute them, however this did not come smoothly, since in the meantime the rebellion erupted. The Number 4 Gas Chamber stokers killed the SS leader and set fire to the crematorium. The attempt to blow up the equipment and the other death machinery only partially succeeded. The workers of Number 1 Furnace threw the German supervisor, Köhl, into the oven, and killed four officers, injured many of them, cut the wires and escaped from the camp.
The Germans immediately sent reinforcements of soldiers, who completely quelled the rebellion. Later an extended investigation was begun: How did explosives and weapons get into the camp? The Germans managed to follow up the movements of four Będzin women, who worked in the Onian explosives factory, and who, every day as they left their work had smuggled out the stolen material in the folds of their dresses into the Auschwitz camp. The smuggled goods were supplied to the Underground, who passed it on to a Russian expert, whose name was Borodine, and who prepared the bombs for future use.
These brave women were: Ella Gärtner, Regina (her family name is not known), Ruzia and Dorka Sapirsztajn from Będzin. These courageous women together with the go-between from the Underground, Raza Rovota, were cruelly tortured, since they refused to give the names of the people from outside, with whom that they been in contact. In November 1944 their sentence was determined: these five wretched and tortured women were executed and hung in front of the masses, to be seen, that they would know and fear
From the many participants in the rebellion we know that these Będzin people were amongst them: Iszajahu Erlich, a committee member of the Auschwitz Underground, survived and went to live in Erez Israel and fell in Gush Etzion during the War of Independence: Mosze Wiganski, the first to stab the crematorium commander with a knife, a deed which gave the signal for the Number 3 incinerator to be blown up, Beniek Fersztenfeld, Wygodzki, the Cymberknopf brothers, David Gutman, and Golberg from Sosnowiec, who was amongst the leaders of the Poale Zion movement in Zagłębie. There are many other names, which we were unable, unfortunately to determine, and who are worthy of mention and eternal praise for their sacrifice. Even though they knew they were doomed to extinction, that they were engaging into a futile struggle, they still embarked into this battle out of a blessed Jewish obligation.
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
Being somewhat lost in Russia for about seven years, deported to the Archangel forests, we did not have any clear information about the situation of Polish Jewry. And when various rumors reached us, we also did not want to believe in the great disaster. I wrote to the Będzin city hall from Bukhara, asking about Jewish Będzin. After three months, I received an answer from the Jewish committee, in which they informed me that my youngest brother, Yehiel M., was in Upper Silesia. I did not succeed in establishing more contact with Będzin. Then, I decided to return to Poland with my wife and son.
For three weeks, we, 1,500 repatriated Polish Jews, dragged ourselves on a special troop train to Upper Silesia. Arriving in Mysłowice, we learned that we would wait here for a long time. I decided to go out to the train station. I could not control myself, being at most 15 kilometers from Będzin How could I not travel further and see my birth city, where I had spent the majority of my life? When the war broke out and I left Będzin, I left my parents, brothers and sisters there, a large family that had grown from one tree, from my grandfather, Ruwin, of blessed memory, and grew to over 150 members. I decided and I entered the post office to search in the phone book. First, I looked for my former telephone number. Alas, it was not there. I looked for familiar names of former merchants who all had telephones, and barely came upon a Jewish name; Danciger Brothers, my former neighbors. I telephoned [them], but no one answered. I learned the number of the Jewish Committee; I called and, after a while, I heard: This is the Jewish Gemeinde [community] Będzin. I asked who was speaking and received an answer, a name that meant nothing to me. I said my name; I asked if I could go to Będzin or if I should travel further, and if I would be able to return to my residence, or if someone from my large family had survived, to whom will I be able to go, my brother is in Lower Silesia, Waldenburg [Wałbrzych] and if I came, would they wait for me and would I be welcomed in the repatriation house, which was located in the former premises of Hakhoah [the strength a Jewish sports organization]. The answer that no one from my large family remained in Będzin so depressed me that I do not know how I returned to the train station to my wife and son. I had no answers to all of their [my wife's and son's] questions. But first, I knew that I would not travel further; I had to see Będzin again; I would not have any rest until I saw Będzin again.
Before traveling to Będzin, we took our small amount of luggage from the military train
because most of us were starting on our wandering roads and we left on the tramway for Szopienice and further to Będzin familiar roads, having often traveled on them.
Evening fell; we approached Będzin. Our hearts beat with anxiety. After seven years of wandering, I was in Będzin again. The tramway was fully packed. I look for a familiar face, a Jewish face. Alas, I did not find one. The people around me were happy. Not one pair of Jewish eyes. On the contrary, we were observed by those traveling with us; they recognized that we were strangers. We were in Będzin it was pouring. The tramway windowpanes were covered in drops of rain which looked like tears, Jewish tears that welcomed me to my destroyed city
We traveled through familiar streets and got off at Kalantai Street where the repatriation house was located. I looked around: this was Będzin? What a silence; no one was seen in the street, despite the early evening hour. Who does not remember Będzin of the past How the streets bustled with Jews; an overwhelming brightness came from the show-windows and now? What a change! We entered the gate of Dovid Zmigrad's house. A young man came immediately and asked me if I am Sh. L. and presented himself as the manager of the repatriation house. He led us into the familiar Hakhoah room. I expected to find several Będziners there, but alas there was not one Będziner. I looked around the so familiar premises; two small electric lamps barely lit the large room. In place of the bicycles stood small beds. It evoked a melancholy; my wife, my son and I were the only Będziners in the house. We had thought Będziners would be waiting for us, to have someone to exchange information. And there was not one of those who were close to us in the city. We ate the evening meal of that which had remained with us from our travels. Tired from a two-week trip, during which we did not have the opportunity to sleep in a bed my family fell asleep immediately. Laying on the bed, looking around the room in which a small lamp burned, images began to appear of former times when young Jewish life was in the room. How many banquets, balls had I and my comrades, friends attended in the room; how many thousands Jewish lives moved through the room. Before my eyes marched Jewish athletes from among the Hakhoah youth, as well as the older generation who did sports-exercises in the room, women and men, laughing eyes, flexible movements so much joyful laughter a noisy, Jewish life of a few dozen years marching before my eyes And now we are the only Będziners in the room. We did not want to believe that of all of this, nothing remained; that this Jewish life no longer existed. How is this possible that Jewish Będzin suddenly ceased to exist; where were the 30,000 Będzin Jews?
I got up and opened the window. The rain had stopped. I realized that, alas, it was the sad truth that Będzin had perished at the hands of the Hitlerist bandits. The former Będzin had ceased to exist. The night lasted longer than the entire seven years of exile in Russia. Day would not dawn. Those around me were sleeping from time to time I heard a sigh. Perhaps they were living through in sleep what I was awake? My thoughts were chaotic. Now I was on the refugee road where the German bombs were falling.
|And the furniture in the street|
I went to the window of my sister's room; I strode calmly through the courtyard as if nothing had happened, just as in the good, past times, when a familiar person lived in every room of the house; families, brothers lived here from 1912, when my father built this house, 20 Jewish families and now? I look at the tenants' board at the gate not one familiar name, not one Jew, only Christians. I leave the house where I spent a part of my life; I go further in the quiet morning hours. Shortly I find myself at Malachowski Street 36, where I lived during the last three years and ran my enterprises. Nothing has changed here. On the balcony of my residence, the same flower boxes as seven years ago. I went to the small building where, before the war, the machines in my factory had worked and had hummed 24 hours a day. It was quiet as if no factory had ever been there. I stood before the door of my office, went down to the cellar where the warehouses had been. What was I searching for there? I was told at the Jewish Committee that I had nothing to look for in my house. I went out to wander around the dead city, as Dovid Liwer calls Będzin in his book. I entered the houses at Malachowski 33, 52, 58, where the majority of my family had lived. No one remained. Then I understood that I would no longer be able to live in the city and I decided to visit the house where I had been born, where my parents and siblings were born, in the residence of the Liwer family, in the house where my grandfather, Ruwin, of blessed memory, lived and created a large, extensive family, perhaps the largest in number in Będzin, at the house at Zamkowa 13.
I looked around and did not recognize the road. I looked for the house in which I was born; everything around had been wiped from the surface; all of the houses and the synagogue had been leveled with the ground. The houses and the synagogue and the large house of prayer had been burned; no sign remained of all of the so-beloved small alleys around my grandfather's house, where I had spent my first years as a child. Thus I stood for a long time on the hill near the castle and looked at the ruins of Jewish Będzin, on the ruins of Będzin Jewish life of a few hundred years.
The sun rose but it was dark in my mind and sad in my heart. There was no longer any sign of generations of Liwers, a family that had provided communal workers, party leaders, followers of the Enlightenment, fervid Hasidim, respected Gerer Hasidim and followers of the Radomsker Rebbe, many preachers in rabbinical courts, students, bank officials, leaders of cooperative banks, merchants, manufacturers and what not. They all, along with thousands of Będzin Jews, are no longer here, dragged to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Their ashes were spread on the Polish fields and none of them have a grave. It also occurred to me that I was standing on a large grave, that these ruins were the large grave of all Będzin Jews. And a curse on my lips Accursed you should be Będzin, my city, which I loved so much, may you be accursed that no Jew should step on your soil. Your appearance should be like it was before the Jews began to build. Away from this ground! Away from the cemetery, to which no one came to be buried away from the dead city!
I go back to the committee. A few hours later, my brother comes to take me from Będzin. We have nothing to look for in Będzin, my brother says to me. We travel to Waldenburg where we remained for three months, but we never again went to Będzin.
Thus I spent a night in dead, Jewish Będzin.
Dr. Feywl Widerman
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
The author of the book, Plowa Bestia (The Blond Beast], from which we present here an excerpt, comes from Galicia (born in 1889). He studied law and philosophy at Krakow University, and received the title of Dr. of Jurisprudence and a diploma as professor at a middle school. He actually rendered great service for the Jewish school system in Poland from after the First World War until the very death of the Zaglembie Judenrat [Jewish council].
He came to Będzin in 1918 and was elected as the director of the Yavne [religious Zionist] gymnazie [secondary school] in place of the previous, first director, Dr. Noakh Braun (in Jerusalem for many years) and served five years.
From 1923 until the outbreak of the war, 1939, he led the women's gymnazie in Sosnowiec. Also, during the war, he was involved with general and trade education among the Jewish population.
He was the author of a book dedicated to problems of the social transformation of the Jewish masses and also of other works on pedagogical themes.
In Będzin, he was simultaneously active in the communal area, was a councilman for a time on the Będzin city council on the side of the left Paolei-Zion [Zionist Socialists] and chairman of a series of institutions, as for example: of the National Education Union in Zaglembie, of the Hofnung [Hope] Society to save the health of sick Jewish children, member of the Association of Supporters of Jerusalem University, and others.
Fate wanted, as Dr. Widerman says about himself, that only he, the only one of all of the directors of the Jewish gymnazies in Poland, should remain alive without a home and without a family to drink to the very bottom of the poisonous cup.
His wife (the daughter of the well-known Będzin resident, Avraham'le Rechnic) and his only son, to whose sacred memory his book, Di Blonde Khaya [The Blond Beast], is dedicated, perished among the six million martyrs.
Every Shabbos [Sabbath], the regular meeting of the instructors from various divisions took place in the central office, at which the main leader, Moniek Merin, and his secretary, Mrs. F. Czarna, gave a report of their activities over the course of the week. At this meeting, the division instructors could discuss various matters that had a connection to their work. At first, someone would dare to utter a critical word, but, later, we were convinced that the criticism had no influence on leader Merin who did not want to hear of this. Every regime wants there to be compliments and particularly Merin and Czarna.
Merin was right, saying about himself, that there had never been a Jewish leader who had so much influence over Jews as he did, the omnipotent one, but he did not consider that he was connected by a thin thread to the Gestapo and that he served as a tool, as a marionette in the hands of Commissar [Hans] Dreier. Merin-Czarna liked to be praised and flattered and, in addition, they always found the appropriate people who were not hard to find because such competent people were always available, especially in war time.
Once he called the consultants to a meeting dedicated to the resettlements [deportations]. He invited the president of the Judenrats from Będzin and Sosnowiec and several personalities to this meeting. At nine o'clock in the evening about 30 people from the elite came together. Merin-Czarna, understandably, were at the head.
The head [Merin] said, I have called together today's meeting to discuss the Jewish situation in the Zaglembie region and to discuss what position we should take about the threatened deportation. You have probably heard, gentlemen, that I and Mrs. Czarna have visited the larger Jewish centers, so that we know exactly what is happening there. We even were in Berlin and in Prague and what did we see there? Desperation. Lacking is a strong hand capable of overcoming the difficult situation and the leader of the German and Czech Judenrats have really lost their heads The deportation of the Jews there are carried out only by the German regime and the kehilus [organized Jewish communities] do not have any influence on the pace of the deportations. While there, I reminded the leaders of the kehilus in Germany of their negative attitude to the proposal that I made a year and a half ago that we should create one central office of all of the kehilus in Germany and of occupied Poland. However, they did not want to hear of this, all because of their disgust for Polish Jews. Even today, in an emergency, they consider the German Jews higher than the Polish Jews, not being able as yet to free themselves from this outlandish thought. They are also against the creation of a union of all kehilus, afraid that the influence will flow into my hands, of a Moniek Merin, a Polish Jew, who does not have a command of the German language and that he would deal with the German regime in their name Because of their errors, German and Czech Jewry are suffering so much today. We need, Merin called out with full enthusiasm, new energetic and daring leaders, because the old diplomacy is bankrupt and, with this, I declare my great success
That is how it was in the east, but it was not any better in the west. Neglect and despair also reigned there. And I realize that in the near future all of the kehilus [organized Jewish communities] will be erased and no trace of them will remain. This is, gentlemen, the result of the false politics that penetrates the heads of the kehilus Rumkowski in Lodz and Czerniakow in Warsaw, with whom I cannot converse. At a joint meeting with them and in my
expository speech that lasted three hours, I could not convince them of the falsehood of their politics and of the truth of my political position. They did not want or they were not capable of understanding me and for that reason they will not have to wait long for the tragic results. Now, gentlemen, compare this with everything that is happening in our region. The Zaglembie kehilus are very organized and very educated, thanks to the fact that they are united in one central [organization] under my leadership. We designate all of the orders from the central [authority] which are precisely carried out. Our finances are healthy and great sums of money are at our disposal. The administrative apparatus evokes astonishment among the German regime organs with which I come in contact. Our aid department feeds thousands of children and adults. The arbeitseinsatz [labor deployment forced labor] fills out its normal contingent and the work in the shops proceeds normally. Most important is that our relations with the regime are based on mutual trust and we, on our side, have no reason to complain
He continued, Now stands in front of us one of the most difficult problems for us. Although our area, for the present, finds itself in a privileged situation, and is comparable to an oasis in a large desert, the danger of deportation still threatens us, even as the regime assures us that it will be of a mild character. We are sure that during the course of the aktsia [action deportation] we will have complete influence, as it was in other aktsias. The timing is still not designated, but we must make the appropriate preparations in advance, which is why, gentlemen, I have called today's consultations. Our premise was and I hope it will continue to be that everything the Germans carry out in regard to Jews will be carried out by ourselves. That is how it was with various collections of furs, woolen materials, electrical tools, sewing machines and typewriters, photographic apparatuses and so on. We must not change this path because that would mean that we overthrow with our own hands the work of three years of activity. I ask you, gentlemen, to join the discussion of the question and after an objective discussion we will summarize the opinions expressed in making decisions. Who wants to speak ?
After an exchange of opinions, during which several participants expressed the idea that our history does not give a Jewish kehile the authority to provide the enemy with a community of Jews for annihilation, relying on Ramban who taught us that not even one person may be turned over for death and, of course, not an entire community, even though the entire city is threatened with danger. Agitated, Merin again began to speak; he spoke with a sharp, high tone:
It has cost me much health to have to listen calmly to my betrayers and their childish performances. We, Jews, have always lacked leaders who could think maturely politically, with courage and sway. We gave always been busy with rabbinical politics, where we showed enough expertise. Long confrontations over a rabbinical seat took place in every city and shtetl [town] that swallowed our entire communal attention, neglecting the community's important problems. And I who have taken over the helm of our politics, come to you with healthy ideas and plans, find no understanding of the matter among you. Who among us deserves credit for first speaking about the deportation of the Jews of Germany, of the occupied lands and of [General] Government Poland? If not for the smart politics of the central office under my leadership, no sign of Zaglembie Jewry would remain. Yes, deportation has been threatened for a long time; I now admit that we have succeeded in avoiding [deportation] for the present, but now we must seriously consider the problem because it is now timely for us. Gentlemen, I wanted to consult with you and, instead of hearing something positive about the matter from you, I have had to listen patiently to nonsense for two hours and I have no time for that
Instead of being involved with real politics, you advise me that I should now study Rambam and his Torah I leave this to the rabbis and other Jewish scholars because this is their trade and occupation, but I, as a politician, must stand guard and protect our interests, because that experience until now has shown that our politics was rational and truly had first-class results
You are of the opinion that our kehilus should not take a direct part in the deportation. Leave this to the German regime. I would be committing the greatest foolishness listening to your advice. What wise politician would decide to leave to the German regime itself to lead an operation against us with its own hands? In such a case, I acknowledge an immediate conclusion. I have no choice and I must work with the deportation, although I know that this is not an appreciated and popular path, but I must go on this path.
He called out with the greatest pathos, Even if you all will be against me, even my closest comrades in the work, I, myself, will lead the deportation. History will judge which of us was correct
Seeing that every word was superfluous and without purpose, no one said anything after this speech. No one could any longer persuade Merin that the road on which he was going was fatal, false and dangerous.
The Director Dreier, the protector of Zaglembie Jews and the friend of Moniek Merin and Mrs. Czarna, reported the following on the 4th of August 1943:
Since last night, the 3rd of August 1943, my county has become cleansed of the Jews. The city council of Sosnowiec and Będzin is employed with the liquidation of Jewish possessions, for which I have given an order for [the city council] to be heir to the Jewish possessions.
I want to remind [you] that in 1939 there were over 100,000 Jews in my county, of which 15,000 were young people; men and women were deported to the arbeitseinsatz and the other 80,000 Jews were liquidated through deportations.
(A freely translated chapter and epilogue by M. Hampel of the Polish book, Plowa Bestia The Blond Beast, by Dr. Faywl Widerman, Munich, 1948.)
Translated by Nitsa Bar-Sela zl
The whole night we marched thus
We did not know to where
The hangman would take us.
We reached the square of blood,
How long will we suffer
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
|God. You remember the bright souls
Who float anxiously on the distant roads
Who were purified on the pyres
In Polish meadows and on Lithuanian trails.
God! You remember the night of nightmares,
God! You remember the cry of the children
Remember! The sun is already shining in the morning
Remember! May my prayer rise to heaven
Remember! Drowned in a spring of tears,
God! You remember the bright souls
The bells of spring have already rung,
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
Among the coal shafts, iron foundries and tall factory chimneys in the Dombrower basin, tens of pure Jewish kehilus [organized Jewish communities] were located where Jewish life grew with the development of heavy industry in the cities of Upper Silesia.
Jewish light industry that produced clothing and underwear, socks, shoes, umbrellas and knitwear grew adjacent to the large factories. In Sosnowiec as in Będzin, the position in economic life of Jewish doctors, lawyers, teachers, intellectual workers was strong. Fifty percent of the Jewish population were workers and artisans.
In these cities which, because of their proximity to all and sundry, actually made the impression of a giant, expansive metropolis in which more than 60,000 Jews lived (? The editor) Jewish life was even noisier, more volcanic, than in other Jewish cities.
Będzin and Sosnowiec gave Jewish literature several talented writers, among them Maks Erik, ethicist and historian of West European style. Erik perished in the Soviet Union.
When I first came to Sosnowiec, Będzin and Katowice and they showed me in what kind of buildings the Jewish communal and charity institutions were located, I hardly believed that this was the reality. There were Jewish schools, hospitals, children's homes, clubs, old age homes and all with spaciousness and scope, as if the Jews had prepared them to last forever. Even the Jewish proletarian parties here were provided with good meeting places, with libraries and unions, not worse than those of the Poles; Sosnowiec and Będzin were fortresses of proletarian socialist movements with a large Halutz [pioneer] element that created and led the underground movement in the ghetto.
This tumultuous Jewish basin became a ruin at the moment the German Army occupied the Polish Upper Silesia.
The Germans entered Sosnowiec on the fourth day after the outbreak of the war, the 4th of September 1939. On that day, Jews had their first victims and they did not cease to have victims until the very death of the Sosnowiec and Będzin kehilus.
The second day after their arrival, the Germans carried out the first aktisa [action] of shaving Jewish heads so they would be recognized in the street. Several days later, they set fire to the synagogues. The daily shootings and driving the Jews through the streets immediately left the Jews morally dejected during the first days. In the chaos, the Jews who had come here from Miechow, Wolbram and Olkusz ran away from here. A large number of the young escaped to the east, to the Soviet part of Poland. The looting of Jewish possession and absorbing the area in the German Reich completely drew the rope around the throats of the Jewish kehilus.
The Germans did not begin to create a ghetto here, but not being in a ghetto was transformed into a dark curse of constant tortures and insults. The driving of large groups of Jews to the Soviet border, expelling Jewish children from schools, the special places for Jews on the sidewalks, the ban against appearing in public places and against going out in the street in the evenings, the special hours when Jews could come to offices all of this was a psychic preparation for the later total murder of the Jews in Sosnowiec, Będzin and the surrounding shtetlekh [towns].
The woefully well-known, Moniek Merin, was designated to reign over the dejected Jews. With his hands, the Germans began to annihilate the Jews. He was the one who the Germans deployed for selected transports of Jews to Auschwitz. First the poorest, those without work; later, orphans, widows, the sick from the hospital, Jews from other communities. The German Moloch [Biblical figure who required a great number of sacrifices] demanded more and more victims and Merin supplied them in the thousand, two thousand and ten thousand. The ovens at Auschwitz opened wide its doors for the Jews and Merin supplied many trains.
When in the suburbs of Sosnowiec and Środula, two ghettos were created for the Jews from Sosnowiec and
|We move to the ghetto|
Through the underground movement of the three Zionist groups: HaShomer HaTsair [secular Labor Zionists], HaNoar HaTzioni [The Zionist Youth] and Gordonia [Zionist youth movement], Merin was sentenced to death. The Jewish bullet did not reach him. Later, when he had already emptied the ghettos, the Germans thanked him for his performances by sending him to Auschwitz, where he had helped the murderers hand over the Jewish communities of the D¹browa region.
The ghettos endured eight deportations. Many survived death eight times until the actual one came.
During the first deportation Jews were lured by special demands sent by the Jewish kehila [organized Jewish community]. The underground movement warned those called not to appear at the designated location. Some Jews did not appear. The transports were filled with other Jews with the help of Moniek Merin.
The second deportation in June 1942, was no longer hidden. They no longer said that the deported were going to work. The victims were the very poorest and the hospital sick, who were taken out of their beds and laid on platforms. Eight small children also were taken from the orphans' home to the transports; the youngest children up to age five. Two thousand souls all together.
Now Jews began to believe that the rumors about the gas chambers were correct. However, the German technique of putting the attention of its victims to sleep had thousands of methods and, on the 12th of August, 1942, it permitted the Germans to put together 26,000 Jews, a third of whom went to Auschwitz with the most terrifying moral and physical suffering. This time, too, the underground movement warned the Jews not to appear, but the masses did not believe them.
The underground movement consisted of young people from Zionist groups who decided that the only road that led to rescue, if there was to be a rescue, was to fight. After Mordekhai Anielewicz, the commandant of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, visited Zagłębie, the underground movement received new zest. It appealed to the Jews; it appealed to the Poles. Its activity was made more difficult. It had against it the Judenratler [Jewish councilman], Moniek Merin, whose general staff of provocateurs and agents persecuted the underground movement. When the Jews were placed in the ghetto, its activity became even more difficult. It printed appeals not only to the Jewish population, but even to the German soldiers at the front and the appeals were placed in the shoes that were designated to be shipped to German Army at the front.
The best sons of the movement fell into the hands of the Gestapo and perished. The heroic Zvi Dunski, who together with two comrades was supposed to carry out the assassination of Moniek Merin, was shot after terrible torture.
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
|A giant field, its wheat just cut,
Who seeded it with open graves?
Without shrouds, without Kaddish,. no sobs, no tears
Without confession, without cleansing the body,
With an unaccompanied funeral.
On mass graves, I tore my clothing in mourning,
Why does the moon shine and its stars sparkle?
Silence, silence, bloody crows, go away!
Somber skies close the gates!
Silence black crows from mother's bodies,
In the shadows of wild over-grown trees,
|Published in the organ of the Polish Jewry in Germany, Ibergang [Passage], Munich the 10th of August 1947, for the fourth anniversary of the general deportation from Będzin and Zagłębie.|
Lipa Minc was dragged far away and annihilated at Auschwitz. The heroic Hela Szancer perished.
There was no rescue for the Zagłębier Jews. The underground movement was weak and powerless against the terrifying German murder machine. Living pieces were torn from the ghettos and with them went a part of the underground movement, while others were tortured in the labor and extermination camps of Germany.
Dr. E. Ringelblum
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
We provide here several extracts from Emanuel Ringelblum's notes written in the Warsaw Ghetto and having a connection to our city. Despite the fact that the information is not precise, it corresponds in general with the realities. Of particular interest is a characteristic of Moniek Merin and the observation, Luck accompanied him in many cases. Yes, M. Merin succeeded as long as he could give the Germans everything they demanded, gold, silver as well as human victims. And when Merin no longer had anything to give, the German criminals liquidated [him].
The fact that Ringelblum recalls that Merin succeeded in deporting 6,000 Jews and their furniture from Oświęcim [Auschwitz] is not to his [Merin's] credit. The Germans were interested in clearing Oświęcim county to be able to construct the place they had prepared for genocide and the gas ovens. The fact is correct that Merin wanted to become the leader of Polish Jewry because that is what he was in Warsaw and Lodz in cooperation with [Chaim] Rumkowski, but the Judenratn [Jewish councils] with the help of their German friends did not let him.
The 26-27 [no month is given] 1940 Emanuel Ringelblum wrote in his notes from the Warsaw Ghetto:
Heard an interesting characteristic of King M. (Merin). Before the war he was a bit of an impoverished man. He crossed over politically from one side to the other. For a time, he was a right Paolei-Zion [Marxist-Zionists], then a Zionist. There was a time that he was a follower of Rabbi Hamer.. He always was a political mediator. Played cards and lost. Divorced his wife; before the [Second World] war began to rehabilitate himself. On the day that the Ashkenazis [the medieval Hebrew word for Germany is Ashkenaz] arrived (the 4th of September) in S. (Sosnowiec), all of the Jewish men aged 14 to deep old age were taken to a cellar under the ratusza [town hall]. The overcrowding there was frightening; sweat gushed from people in buckets. If it had lasted half-an-hour longer, everyone would have suffocated. People were ready to blow up the water canals to be able to drown. [They were] finally let out and brought to the covered market. There the Jews were placed in rows of six, told that the Jews had shot at the Ashkenaz through a window. Beards and peyos [sidecurls] were shorn off; eight barbers were sent for their tools and the Jews were threatened that if they did not return in 15 minutes, the seven Jewish intellectuals who had been placed at the wall would be shot; finally, after being given a half hour, the people made a spiritual account; [the Germans] readied their weapons. At the last minute, the barbers came running. The sweat running down their faces; thus saved. Were in the camp a few more days and then slowly freed. First, the artisans, then others over the course of three or four days. However, lost 10 kilos [about 22 pounds], looked half dead. Three hundred Jews were killed there. In Sosnowiec, no one knew to whom the idea of gold and silver tax payments belonged. There were suspicions that the king (Editor: Merin) had created it. The Poles believed this was not appropriate, but the Jews explained that this was to protect against persecutions. The recording of taxes of this sort was a problem. In Będzin, it was normal to enter them. The king, a warm Jewish heart. He was welcomed very well in Merysz-Ostrow and Prague.. He had the good fortune to free the Jews from Merysz-Ostrow from the camp in Nisko; the area was needed for another purpose. Therefore, with regard to this, a request came about freeing the Jews from the camp. Good fortune accompanied him in many cases. It was believed that because of emigration, they were doing everything and not stopping for anything. Lastly, tried to get authorization from the Warsaw activists probably necessary for him because of the German Jews who asked [the Biblical question]: What is your name? Finally compromised because of the promise of 20,000 emigration certificates and nothing came of it. This strongly weakened his position, but he succeeded in delaying the Silesia expulsion for several months. Now on the 26th of April, the expulsion of Ryvink, Oderberg and other cities in the east to Sucha, Czebrynya, Zawiercie had to take place. Thousands of Jews have to leave their homes. King M. wanted to travel to Krakow and become the king of the entire gybernia [county] and, in general, of Altreich [the old country] and the Protectorate [of Bohemia and Moravia]. Poland expressed itself against King M. in a leaflet written about him and his system.
On the 28th of August 1940, a message came from Lodz that Merin should become the Überherr [overlord] of the Lodz ghetto.
The 15th of January 1941. Today 15th of January, a message arrived about the expulsion of 150,000 Jews from Sosnowiec and Będzin. Ham [reference to the Germans] wants to carry out the thing, and if we do it, it will be possible to save the money of these people. This is a question of principal. Should we do such a thing with our own hands.
February 1941. In Będzin, Sosnowiec, they took money with the help of shlepers [bums] who occupied the apartment of the tax debtors until the full sum of the tax was paid..
17th of April 1941. It was the days of Merin. He was welcomed like a king. The artists greeted him in the theater. Reb Menakhem Mendl (Kirszbaum?) introduced him to the audience. A new redeemer of the Jewish people! Będzin, Sosnowiec succeeded in avoiding a ghetto thanks to his efforts. The mortality there was less than before the war; there were no beggars in the streets. In a short time, Merin had organized the relocation of 6,000 Jews from Owięcim and its surroundings; the Jews took everything with them, even furniture. The apartment question was settled in such a manner that refugees were placed in every house.
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
One of the interesting small streets in Będzin was the Podzamcze Alley or, as we would call it, behind the mountain. While Będzin had grown at that time and a new street would arise and the old one would be refreshed and rebuilt and new, modern houses would arrive, Podzamcze Alley remained in its old deeply primitive style, appearing half-way like a village. It was a long, small alley with small houses with shingle roofs, part crooked and crumbling from age. Some residences were in deep cellars, where in winter it was wet and damp and where in summer no sunbeams entered. Here Jews and Christians lived together harmoniously from generation to generation.
The majority of residents of the alley were toilers, porters, tailors, carpenters, shoemakers and just poor workers who worked hard and bitter up to 16-hours a day for their means of living. Here lived the so-called poor people beggars, swindlers, hurdy-gurdy men with parrots. Here also lived Jews who remembered the Polish revolt of 1863.
The alley slept during the winter thanks to the mud that was there which did not dry until just before Passover. Then the alley woke up. There were many small groups of children there. The children were outside during the summer. The whitewashing of the houses with white and blue lime promised that spring was coming. The sun reached to the windows and the street became lively. The sharp air from the meadows and from the river, our Przemsza, drew out the residents from their cellar houses. The residents of the other side of the city began to appear in the alley; in the evenings the young would go sailing through on boats between the green fields very far outside the city.
The alley extended from Bazikowski's water mill to the train tracks at the Firstenberger gymnazie [secondary school], from one side of the górka [Polish word for hill] to the other side of the Przemsza; the party youth would hold discussions at the górka, agitate and discuss, hoping to persuade each other, carried on talks about art and literature and, when night fell, the groups began to sing songs, and according to the songs, one knew which group it was. There the Zionist youth sang songs of Zion; on another side, the Bundists sang revolutionary songs; in a third corner, [they sang] the folk songs of Rozenfeld, Reisen, Ansky. And the singing carried far into the darkness of the night and hit the small houses in the alley like an echo and sweetly put its residents to sleep after the heavy workday. There on the mountain, among large rocks, couples in love would swear eternal love. And Yosl, the city matchmaker, would say that the mountain was his greatest competitor
The closed górka was a different world where one had to pay entry money. The historic castle with the tall, round tower supported by three thick, brick walls and whoever succeeded in climbing on the third wall had the entire landscape of the city before him. The two bridges across the Przemsza and the water mill where the water was struggling and angry here was seen how the Przemsza meandered among the green fields to the Dambrower coal pits. Entirely different people would come to this part of the shore; here it was still, calm; here we would sit on the shore and read a book. Here a young man, in secret from his parents, would learn and prepare for exams. In one word the open and closed górka were the cradle of the Będzin young people, a young people's university, where they were educated, learned to think and dreamed about the future.
April 1946. Our transport dragged from distant Russia, finally across the Polish border. We were in Mysłowice. The transport remained standing for several hours. I decided to visit my home, my alley. I traveled through Szopienice-Sosnowiec to Będzin on a tram, I walked through the city. I was looking for a Jew there was nothing but Christians Małachowska-Kollontaja. The old market, familiar streets, but still strange. I looked for the large house of prayer, the synagogue, all in ruin. My head was heavy; I was light-headed. Further, quicker! Here at the shore should have stood Ruwin Liwer's house. All in ruins, no sign at all of the alleys around the synagogue. Here is the pump which had a good reputation for its clean, crystal-water; here the Hasidim took water for the shmurah matzo [closely watched matzo]. Then I stood forlorn, I thought of how the water had dried out there There was the linas khoylim [organization for the sick]; how quiet it was there now. I went nearer to our house at Podzamcze 34. Here my parents spent their last night. I opened the heavy door of the house and remained standing nothing remained, not even a window, not even the boards of the floor, the ceramic tiles of the oven. Everything had been pulled out. The neighbors looted here I was covered in sweat
Podzamcze Alley with its toiling Jews is not there anymore and we will never again hear the high, healthy speaking of the Będzin bachmanes (porters). The brown [shirt] Nazi animals tore everything out by their roots.
Moshe Benyamin Klajnman
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
At the end of May 1945, like the first of the autumn leaves falling from trees that the wind had driven together in one place, the remaining remnants of the 800-year-old Jewish community in Będzin again came together in their Będzin. They dreamed of meeting from close and far and rebuilding the beautiful Jewish Będziner world that disappeared into eternity in fire and in smoke The unfortunate remnant forgot a law of nature, that a tree torn out by the roots cannot be planted again by planting withered autumn leaves.
Będzin, the Hasidic-commercial city, whose houses, businesses, banks and factories were once authentically Jewish, whose Shabbos [Sabbath] was seen as all holy, who observed the reign of the Shabbos queen adorned in silk-lined fur coats, satin hats and Hasidic shtreimls [fur hats worn by Hasidim] at every turn, now possessed another face. Crosses gazed out from the former Jewish windows. On the well-to-do Jewish balconies in streets empty of Jews, goats graze, smack their lips and show their tongues to the few boys and girls who walk around homeless with haggard eyes full of longing and sorrow
Jewish poets in Poland sang that the Vistula [River] spoke Yiddish and romantic Będzin young people dreamed that the Przemsza [River] also spoke Yiddish. However, the Jews left and with them their synagogues were left in flames, along with their house of prayer, their Talmud Torah [religious primary school for poor boys], mikhvas [ritual baths], shtiblekh [one room synagogues] and all of the charitable institutions; however, the Przemsza remained and did not dry up in protest because the Przemsza was Polish and remained Polish, while the earth was Polish and everything that was built on this earth was and remained Polish; only we, our parents and grandfathers were tragically wrong
To the few [Jewish] people who already were in Będzin after the Polish liberation in January 1945, were added in May, a few select individuals who had just been freed from the concentration camps. All of these people who came from the concentration camps were placeless, without shelter and also homeless, simply not knowing what to do with themselves, where their road led and how to rebuild their lives. A Jewish committee existed that was connected to the Central Warsaw Committee, founded and supported by the Polish government. This committee actually was occupied only with social and first aid work. Everyone arriving was given several zlotes and free lunches. Almost no one had a place to live. The local starosta [village chief] had provided several rooms in the house of Yehiel Winer for those returning and there the people lived a life of those who had been spit out, whom the world had spit out only because they were Jews.
There was no sign of Jewish communal life. One could meet a few Jews until 12 noon in the poor house beds, in the few rooms in Yehiel Winer's house or, later, standing on Małachowska Street at the committee, talking and waiting, not knowing for what. The passing gentiles threw angry, hate-filled glances at the few Jews, regretting that the Germans with their [the Poles'] help had not succeeded in liquidating the Jews; they rarely met a gentile who smiled at the unfortunate ones
The ways of God are hidden Providence wished that my wife and I should survive in the concentration camps and that we should also travel together to Będzin, look for our children, sisters and brothers and relatives. However, we did not find any of our closest family, not living and not any grave at which to leave a tear, no last greeting could be found and no last moan from stones and walls could be heard, only the smell of fire filled the air
We did not think of rebuilding Jewish Będzin; our feet could not walk on the earth soaked in sacred blood. We knew that we must leave. The ostensibly shared fate of the Jews and the Poles had tragically ended for eternity, but Będzin would remain a meeting place for the surviving Będzin Jewry for several years. Could these Jews be left abandoned without the elementary foundation of Yidishkeit [Jewishness, connoting an emotional connection to Judaism and/or to the Jewish people and their history, beliefs and customs], without a synagogue, without kosher food and without normal Jewish family life, without the constructive rebuilding of Jewish life, without preparations for a normal religious, national human life in Eretz Yisroel, or should we really allow that trace of morale disappear and demoralization oppress the remnant of Jews?
Therefore, we decided to organize a religious, Jewish kehila [organized community], a continuation of the thousand-year history of Jewish exile that protected and maintained the Jewish people.
The first steps were turning to the starosta [local government official] for him to allocate several rooms in Patak's former house (later Palitajnske's) for the purpose. Receiving
Sitting from the left: Moshe Herszfinkel, Yudl Stupnicki, Y. K. Rudal, Rabbi Yitzhak Parasal, chairman, M.B. Klinman, secretary, Waldman
Standing: Najman, Yakov Ajzenberg, L. Merin
Seeing that the ritual slaughtering of meat had, alas, been forgotten by the majority of Jews in Będzin, we looked for ways in which to win over these Jews; we then brought to Będzin a few times a week a shoykhet [ritual slaughterer], Reb Elihu Gad from Sosnowiec (today in Haifa). Simultaneously, we sent a special emissary, Wolf Szwajcer (today in Haifa), to all the Jewish houses to take the poultry to be ritually slaughtered, not taking any payment for the slaughter, and sent a slaughtered chicken to each home. We made tefilin [phylacteries] and distributed siddurim [prayer books] without cost and other ritual objects; married off with dignity male orphans with female orphans and in conformity with the laws of Moses and Israel.
A case of conversion [to Judaism] also took place at that time in Będzin. We learned that a young Jewish man from Będzin, a Hasid before the war who was saved by a Christian in Upper Silesia, had promised this Christian, who incidentally, had a daughter, to marry her. We invited this young man to our office. Learning from him that the Christian woman wanted to convert [to Judaism], we invited her, explained all of the Jewish religious laws. Then we turned to the larger Krakow religious kehila [organized religious community] with the request that they convert this woman. However, receiving an answer that they were afraid to convert her because of the law then that did not permit this, we in Będzin carried it out. We understood that if we did not do this, this young man, God forbid, would not resist the temptation [presumably he would convert to Catholicism] and others could follow in his path. We would reach a situation where conversion would put the finishing touch on what was left by the Holocaust and fire
Our work became varied and expanded. Communal workers came from other cities and shtetlekh [towns] to see everything we had created, to see how we particularly transformed individuals into an intimate family, giving all of the people back their lost elevated image of themselves as creatures of God, human-Jewish pride and a feeling that it was worthwhile to remain alive.
However, revived anti-Semitic hooligans began to rampage in Poland. Jews were murdered on the trains and in their just rebuilt houses. In the nearby shtetl, Czeladź, my relative, Grosman, may his blood be avenged, was tragically shot because he wanted to receive a small part of his father's possessions. On the road from Łodz to Krakow, three young Jewish survivors, comrades from haPoel haMizrakhi [religious Zionists supporting the creation of agricultural settlements], who were traveling to Krakow to a conference, were taken from a moving train and bestially murdered. The headquarters of Andres Army in England generously supported the anti-Semitic hooligan movement under the pretext that they [Anders Army] were fighting against the leftist regime in Poland and against Russia. The Polish government was powerless because the majority of the Polish people supported anti-Semitism. The writer of these lines, who lived near the military barracks in Będzin where thousands of Polish soldiers were stationed, was awaited by hooligans with revolvers in their hands and survived death through a miracle.
In March 1946, I received an express letter sent from Katowice and signed by an officer in Anders' band that I had to leave Poland within 48 hours or otherwise I would be murdered. This murderous warning left no doubt that remaining further in Będzin was dangerous and the only way was to leave Poland the tragic, family grave of a third of the Jewish people even faster.
However, the religious institution already existed and for a number of years remained the home and the educational office for all returning Będziner Jews, mainly those returning from Russia.
In the historical epochs of the Jewish kehilus [organized Jewish communities] in gulas [exile], this short-lived, tragic religious Jewish community also takes its modest spot.
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
I, the first of the just-arriving in Israel and my brothers who have remained in Bedzin until now are almost the only Będziner residents, who remained alive, having been concealed and hidden the entire six years of the war in our city, whose destruction, to my most painful suffering, I saw with my own eyes.
I also remained in the destroyed city, which was now completely Judenrein [free of Jews] after the liberation until I immigrated to Israel in 1957 when immigration increased of the last remaining Jews in Poland, seeing that they were superfluous there and could become the scapegoat as always for every political change.
I did not intend to chronologically describe the events in Będzin since the outbreak of the war, 1 September 1939 to the last expulsion, 1 August 1943, because this has been much written and spoken about. It is only a lucky thing that my family was rescued from the catastrophe and we are almost the only ones of the 6,000 Jewish families that Będzin numbered before the calamity that was not annihilated.
We, my brothers and sisters, succeeded in hiding like mice in holes in the attics and in cellars of Christians who blackmailed us and took our last groshn and things of worth from us with which we could ransom ourselves. We, therefore, had the good fortune that we were not handed over into the hands of the Gestapo, which did happen to other hidden families from whom everything was taken first and then arrested and annihilated. The death penalty was a threat to every Christian who hid a Jew. On the contrary, he received a cash reward when he betrayed and denounced a Jew.
Therefore, I consider it a moral duty to their credit to remember several Christians in Będzin, the Messrs Pawel Szulc and Marian Stanek, of the Just of the Nations [Righteous Among the Nations], who did not lose their humanity during the war years, when the morality and holy human worth were trod upon by the filthy paws of the Nazi beasts and the Jewish people were drowned in a flood of blood. These two dear Poles, although they themselves were in mortal danger more than once, were helpful to us and encouraged us, that we would be freed and see Hitler's dark end.
The Będzin priest, proboszcz [parish priest] Zawadzki, earned a public thank you for saving Jews during the fire at the synagogue set by the German murderers on the first day of the occupation and hiding them in the church.
On the 27th of January 1945, Będzin was conquered by the Russian Army, which had marched victoriously on Berlin. The Germans retreated from the city quickly in great confusion, not having time to clean out the offices and take the household items with them; all of this had once belonged to us [to the Jews]. The Christian population made use of the chaos, attacking with great enthusiasm the former Jewish, German- requisitioned residences and shops, looting Jewish possessions that we believed would again belong to us after the war.
The Jewish city was not recognizable. The formerly inhabited Jewish streets, Podzamcze, Zawala, Ribna Rinek, Barzniczna, were completely erased during the war years when we were driven into the ghetto at the Komianka and Gros Szradala. On the contrary, the houses at Sanczewskega, Kolotaja and a part of Małachowskega were split and collapsed so that they had to be supported and held up with iron pillars because they were dangerous and might fall, because the houses had settled and sunk, because under the mentioned streets they were intensively digging coal.
The cleaned-up square where the large synagogue had once stood and had disappeared in smoke at the start of the war, now served as an approach to the Gora-Zamkowa [Castle Mountain], where the castle that had recently been restored, refreshed and transformed into a museum was located.
After the war, the Jewish residents saved through a miracle, who crawled out of bunkers, from liberated concentration camps and death camps appeared in Będzin and then it became clear to us that only very few individuals remained of this community
I can say factually that when the few surviving Będzin Jews, the remnants of the unburned brothers and sisters, entered the city reporting to the police, asking for a place to spend the night and a roof over their heads which had been stolen from them, it was said to them: What more will you demand of us? Perhaps, we should decorate the city gates with garlands in your honor?
This actually was right after the liberation, but later, the relations of the city regime to us changed favorably. A Jewish committee was elected, whose purpose and task was to help the arriving landsleit [people from the same town] with everything possible, but the committee was a disappointment because disagreements and disappointments occurred internally between the communistically and Zionistically disposed members. It was a shame and a disgrace for the Polish government organs who argued: there remained a small number of Jews and you are fighting so much among yourselves Today, no Zionists exist in the Jewish committee, because those Zionists who were at first represented there and those in whose hearts there still smoldered a national spark, are now found in the Land of Israel.
It is interesting that when I found myself in Tel Aviv for the first few months, I met several Będzin committeemen who had railed against
the Zionists and the Jewish land Can one fathom a Jewish soul ?
When the gentiles saw us, the few, insignificant, exhausted surviving Jews, they crossed themselves and, in astonishment, asked as if we had arisen from the dead: Kochanie Boże [dear God], you are still alive? It seems that the few Jews were also superfluous in their eyes and they wanted to be done with us as quickly as possible because the amassed hatred they had for the Jews which was preached hour after hour reached the very highest level.
It did not take long and we felt the result of this hate and they gave us a warning: Two Jewish young men from Czeladź, Yosele Grosman's son and the son of the baker, Gelbhart, who had survived the Nazi extermination camp through a miracle, actually standing at the edge of death, were murdered by the Poles.
Bedzin was transformed into a city of the dead, into a large cemetery, not leaving any trace of the glorious Jewish traditions of many generations. Fate wished that even the dead would not have any repose because the cemeteries became ruins and the bones were plowed under.
The cemetery at Zawala Street was demolished completely and they paved the sidewalks with the headstones. They tore out the headstones and dug stones from the cemetery near the train station, using them [the headstones] for lime because the lime ovens that belonged to Mr. Fishl Zigrajch from Ząbkowice (today in Israel) were very close.
The last cemetery at Czeladź was completely defiled. Before the war, the well-known Będzin philanthropist, Yakov Gutman, had a fence built there, a brick wall on the main side and a wooden fence on the other three [sides]. The Christians demolished it and used it for their own purposes. The headstones were looted, graves were dug up searching for the corpses' gold teeth. I saw this myself.
Today, Będzin consists of a minyon [ten men, the minimum number required for prayers] of whom only a few are long-time inhabitants, born there. We looked around at what kind of world we have and realized obviously that we must leave Poland. Several immigrated overseas; others found their home in Israel.
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
In 1938, when the familiar and imported German anti-Semitism raged intensely in Sanajca [Sanation Józef Piłsudski's regime] Poland, the Jewish population was upset by the unbelievable news that Polish Jews who had settled in Germany, had been chased out of Germany to the Polish border in a cruel manner, driven past provoked dogs and were even shot at. The news created a painful impression even on the Polish-Silesian population who showed a great deal sympathy for the unfortunate Jews and came to help them in various ways.
Not knowing Hitler's methods then, no one could comprehend that the deportation of Polish Jews who had lived in Germany for many years would be carried out with such fury and scope and despite communal opinion.
When this news reached our city, a meeting of the older community workers was called together at the initiative of the kehila [organized Jewish community] secretary, Y. Frilech, to consider the question. An organizational and women's committee was created with Mrs. Faradistal at the head, with the purpose of providing the arriving refugees with various needs: food products, clothing, bedding and even apartments. The collections were carried out spontaneously, without publicity, because the Będzin women, to their great glory, contributed everything that was needed, with full will and heart.
In the meantime, the number of refugees grew larger and larger and according to the news reports, in two days 3,000 families were driven across the Upper Silesia border, the majority through Radzionków and approximately 20,000 people were driven across the Zbąszyń border.
An aid committee was also created in the neighboring city of Katowice, which like Będzin, did everything possible to ease the conditions of the suffering Jews.
A meeting took place in Będzin at the close of Shabbos [Sabbath], the 29th of October 1938, to which a large group from all strata came without any advertising. The ways and methods of our aid actions were broadly considered. A permanent committee was elected with Mr. Firstenberg as chairman, Yitzhak Wigodzki (vice chairman), Markus Gertner (secretary), Yisroel Gothajl (treasurer), Benyamin Graubard, Mrs. Faradistal (all tragically perished), Avraham Liwer (now in America) and Motl Gold (second vice chairman), who recently arrived in Israel with his family from Russia.
I was delegated to go to Zbąszyń to help the refugees there and in the work of the Joint [Distribution Committee]. Being there for a time, I described the following in a report in the Zaglembier Zeitung [Zaglembier Newspaper]:
The small shtetele [town], Zbąszyń, was transformed into a large camp of refugees who were 'accommodated' in horse-stalls of the previous German landowners. The
hygienic arrangements satisfactory. The Joint was involved in all areas, founding a children's home, taking care of medical aid and so on. The Joint director, Giterman (perished in the Warsaw ghetto. The Ed.), acknowledged that Będzin had shown such understanding in the area of easing the suffering of the expelled refugees. I was assigned to the economic division, which demanded a great deal of work, as, for example, obtaining various food products and other things and distributing them to the people's kitchen and among private people.
A special vehicle arrived here from Będzin with the collected articles and medicine. A group of our doctors and medics with Dr. Tajchner at the head came here, at first to search for a place of refuge. Every passenger, leaving the city, was legitimized, if he was not a refugee.
The Jewish community in Poland showed a great interest in Jews who had been driven away, also in the political and communal dimensions [of the matter] and demanded that the Polish government take over the accommodation and support of all of the Jews who, as Polish citizens, had been driven out.
The Sejm [parliament] deputy, L. Mincberg, and the chairman of the Krakow kehila [organized Jewish community], Dr. Landau, and a group of doctors came to Zbąszyn in place of the Będzin doctors.
A thousand refugee souls came to Będzin for whom the city showed a great deal of support and warmth. May refugees were given work in their fields; others received material help to allow them an independent existence and income. The ORT [Obshchestvo Remeslenava Truda Association for the Promotion of Skilled Trades] organization provided courses for cutting clothing, children of school age were given a school education, so our help extended into all areas.
A national conference took place in Warsaw under the chairmanship of Rabbi, Professor Moshe Szar, dedicated to the problems of the refugees. The emissaries from Będzin, Frajlech and the writer of these lines, demanded at the conference that the help for the refugees should be considered in a productive and constructive manner and more quickly, providing them with work in factories and in workshops and in artisan schools for the young.
In the spring, new refugees from Slovakia appeared in Będzin after the occupation by Hitler, may his name and memory be erased. Our committee became very positively active until the outbreak of the Second World War, which turned us all into refugees and corpses.
I cannot end this article without dedicating several lines to the sacred memory of the murdered religious community of the Jews of Będzin and my comrades, with whom I worked at the refugee committee.
Our city with its effervescent, passionate character in all communal areas, the city that reacted against all injustices and wrongs, the city with its rabbis, scholars and worldly Jewish culture, the city with its generous philanthropists and good-hearted people.
In this yizkor book about Będzin, may [we remember] the dear names of the noble and completely dedicated leader, Mrs. Faradistal, of the honest activists, Yitzhak Wigodzki, Markus Gertner, Benyamin Graubard, Yisroel Frajlech, of blessed memory, who not only helped to ease the need of those brothers driven by the bestial, Hitlerist Germany, but suffered with them physically and spiritually and as foreseen, suffered their own bitter fate and tragic end
Honor the memory of the tens of thousands of Będziner martyrs and sanctified ones!
|There is no room for furniture in the ghetto houses|
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
Extracts from a speech in Yiddish by Mordekhai Hampel, given on the radio, Kol Yisroel [Voice of Israel] for immigrants in Jerusalem, on the eve of Tisha b'Av [fast day commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples] 5715, 1955 at the first anniversary of the unveiling of the headstone at the cemetery in Nahalat Yitzhak in memory of the Association of Former Residents of Zaglembie.
Last year, Tisha b'Av, 5714, 1954, the Zaglembie landsmanschaft [organization of people from the same town] in Israel fulfilled a high duty to the memory of its 100,000 murdered victims, that suffocated in the Auschwitz gas chambers and those burned in the crematoria ovens by building a majestic monument that would serve as a remembrance of the destruction of their unforgettable ones at the Nahalat Yitzhak cemetery, near the military graves of the heroic Israeli troops who fell in the War of Independence for the Land of Israel.
It was really no accident that the magnificent headstone showing the branches cut off of the Jewish people in Poland stood near the rows of our soldiers because they, too, those millions of Jews slaughtered by the foaming poison of the Nazi devils, personify strength because their spirit blazed, awoke and served as the stimulating power for forging at last the redemption of Israel.
With the total and final expulsion of the Zaglembie Jews to the slaughterhouse of Auschwitz, on the 1st of August 1943, Zaglembie Jewry, whose name reached very far, was erased for eternity as very few, a very small number was successful in saving itself from the lime oven and the very few survivors, brothers tested like Job, could tell about the horror stories and painful hell in the death camps that have no equal in our Book of Tears.
One's breath is taken and the blood curdles in one's veins when reading and listening to how the enemy of Israel sharpened its weapons to exterminate the Jewish people, how they murdered millions of people with all modern means of annihilation, with all kinds of inventions and devices that the devil brought them which they had not yet thought of; how Zaglembie, the old home, was transformed into a horrible ruin under which was buried a heroic, Jewish history.
One of our Zaglembie remnants, the author of the two shocking books, Salamandra [Sunrise over Hell] and Beit haBubot [House of Dolls], Ka-Tsetnik [Yehiel De-Nur, born Yehiel Fajner], who lived through fears for his life and soul, brought to brilliant expression all of his horrible experiences and his grievous soul in his artistically elevated creations.
A handful of ash of the Zaglembie martyrs survived and was protected and brought to Israel (1951) by a Zaglembie refugee, Dovid Zicher, who was employed at the crematoria and, as a result, he was an eyewitness to the cruel orgies of the evil-minded phantoms, whose blood thirstiness could never be satisfied. He told how he raked with his hands and gathered the sacred ash in which there also was a remnant and powder of the bones of his closest family. This box of ashes had the merit of having a Jewish burial, (Tisha b'Av 5712, 1952) and, whereas our martyrs, in general, did not have burials, we can say in relation to them what the Torah says about Moses And no one knows his burial place to this day.
At the grave of the pile of ashes, we place in a visible and central location (5714-1954) a one-of-a-kind magnificent headstone in memorial, at the cemetery in Nahalat Yitzhak, near Tel Aviv that will serve as a symbol, an eternal memorial not only for our generation, but for coming generations, who will not forgive and not forget what Amalek [Germany] did to us.
On the headstone is engraved the names of twelve destroyed larger and smaller Jewish communities, May God avenge them:
Engraved in verse on black marble are their family trees, their ancestral merits, their magnificent past and their bitter fate. A glowing flame chiseled on the headstone expresses in fiery words our old faith: I will not die because I will live! The fundamental will of our people to revitalize the eternal light and eternally remain in Israel, eternally Jewish.
In order to watch the unveiling of the monument, almost all of the former residents of Zaglembie from the entire country [Israel] came together. The headstone was unveiled with deep, awe-filled respect for the recently deceased chairman of the Zaglembie landsmanschaft, the Rabbi and Sage, Reb Menakhem Hager, may the memory of the righteous man be blessed. Our eyes clouded over in tears, heart-rending sobbing broke out here and there. Everyone said Kaddish [prayer for the dead] together because who did not share a part of the great death, for there is no house where there is no dead
Standing thus at the headstone with saddened hearts, when our thoughts carry us unwillingly to our childhood years in our old home of exile, let us remember the tortured souls of our closest blood and bodies who knew that their death was not futile, believing that the great day was near, the bright morning we all dreamed of that would bring the news and hope and salvation, liberation and redemption, when on the ruins of the great Jewish night would grow the Jewish nation and a new life, as the prophet [Jeremiah, 30:1) said: And I will return them to the land that I gave their forefathers, and they will possess it.
The day will come when the spring sun will rise high and my dispersed people will return from their long wandering road; returning my sons to the borders of their land, no longer knowing of exile, slavery and shame.
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