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I. Shoah (Holocaust)

[Page 342]

Będzin in her destruction

(Excerpts from the book “City of the Dead”, Teverski, Tel Aviv, 5707 [1946/47] )

by Dawid Liwer

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld

Before moving on to the last tragic description of the total expulsion, I wish to focus on a point of great interest: Even in the most gray and bitter days of the Nazi occupation, frivolity and jokes were not abandoned by the Jews – regardless of whom or what it concerned, and even concerning the “troubles” themselves. More than one political joke that began in the Polish ghettos “grew wings” and transcended borders and oceans to reach the Jewish Diaspora. But this is a matter for the folklorists. Here I will present one such example.

We didn't know what the source of the rumor was. We discussed it at great length and reached the conclusion that there was no truth to it, even though we foresaw that the Germans were capable of this. We could not envisage the implementation of this Satanic program, of which it is difficult for a cultured human being to conceive. However, a fear gnawed away at our hearts, and we didn't know what element of truth was contained in the jokes that the Jews of Będzin made up on this subject.

There was a soap that was rationed by the Germans, of the poorest quality, which left colored stains on the face if one washed with it. The soap was called “Rippel,” and its abbreviation “R.J.F.” (by which it was commonly known) the Jews jokingly interpreted as “reines Judenfett” (pure Jewish fat). And so fun was made in such quips as, “With a face like his, the Germans won't make Rippel from it.” In contrast, pointing to a Jew with a tendency to obesity: “Nu, the Germans are going to make a fair size piece of soap from you,” and so on. Good friends that bade farewell in these difficult times, not knowing if they would ever meet again, would say to one another, “See you later on the shelves,” as if to say, “See you on the shop shelves after the Germans have made soap out of you.” All sorts of witticisms of this kind reached German ears, and they made use of them in conversation between themselves. Thus, for example, we would call a Jew who had fallen in step with the Germans as “verbachert,” meaning “failure,” so the Germans would not understand. However, with time the Germans themselves made use of this expression, but in a distorted way; “verbachert” was used for an informer of a certain type in the police or the Judenrat. To the insiders, he was known as a “screw turner”, to mean someone running more than one businesses at once (a double dealer). With time, when the Germans would frequent the Judenrat and needed a high official, they would ask for the “screw turner.”

This is a story which was told by a friend, who on January 15, 1944, jumped from the train in which the last of the Jews from the Będzin-Sosnowiec labor camps were being transported for annihilation at Auschwitz:

“In the rail car, when it was clear that the end was near, one of the men, Majer Shajntel (Majer Kakker), a popular Jewish character from Będzin, pulled out a bottle of whiskey and called out, Jews, let's be joyous, and may the names and memories of the Germans be erased. Don't dismay, Jews, l'chaim, l'chaim…”

List of the buried Jewish corpses who were shot while trying to escape during the expulsion during the period between the 22nd – 26nd June 1943

[I saw no point in adding the names “Izrael” and “Sara” to the names
and instead, have indicated if the person is male or female]

list-s.gif (20 KB)

[Click on the picture to enlarge it]

list-txt.gif [12 KB]

A list of 74 names of Jews that was sent by the Germans to the Judenrat in Zion, who were “shot while trying to escape during the expulsion” (among them the “Dayan” Lipszyc, and the deputy mayor, Rubinlicht). The truth is that the Germans murdered them in their homes and in the streets of the town during the 3rd expulsion (which lasted three days) on the 22nd of June, 1943. As was usual, the Germans added the middle name “Israel” to all the Jewish men and “Sara” to all the women.

No. Name Gender Age Address
1. Broder, Juda Lejb M 31 R. Kochstr. 37
2. Zajdman Moschek Chaim M 28 Marktstr. 19
3. Schwarcberg Icek M   Steinstr. 4p
4. Lederman, Nuayn Dawid M    
5. Radoszycki, Beryś M 40 Friedrichstr. 17
6. Rubinlicht, Lajzer M 62 Friedrichstr. 57
7. Lipszyc, Dan M   Friedrichstr. 23
8. Grundman, Josek M    
9. Najfeld Srul Dawid M 21  
10. Goldberg, Mendel M 50 Friedrichstr. 50
11. Zabner, Szmul Majer M 20 Kasernenstr. 82
12. Rotenberg, Josef M 22 Kl. Schrodel
13. Staszewski, Szulim M    
14. Lipszyc, Abram Hersz M 18 Steinstr.
15. Lewin, Hersz Lajb M 17 Steinstr.
16. Guzy, Lajzer Icek M 20 R. Kochstr. 78
17. Wizner, Hersz M 70 Kasernenstr. 37
18. Gitler, Ajzyk M 63 Wolfbergstr. 5
19. Skocylasz, Motel M 29  
20. Landau, Nuta M 27  
21. Lipszyc, Dawid M 55  
22. Laudon, Beniamin M 67 Kl. Schrodel 32
23. Lindenbaum, Majer M 59 A. Weg 4
24. Niegoslawski, Mordka M 52 Steinstr. 49
25. Joskowicz, Dawid M 24  
26. Schmidt, Julius Dr. M   Bergmanstr. 75
27. Zalmanowicz, Chil M 26  
28. Szenherc, Hirsch M 50 Kl. Schrodel
29. Rozen, Chaim Icek M   Steinstr. 21
30. Ferleger, Chaim Josek M 25 Steinstr.
31. Mendelbaum, Simon M 60 Marktstr. 27
32. Ajzenhendler, Wolf M 32  
33. Robszyc, Salek M 22 Kasernenstr. 102
34. Landau, Dobra F 21 Kasernenstr. 37
35. Landau, Hena Ruchla F 57  
36. Landau, Chawa F 29  
37. Lipszyc, Chawa F   Friedrichstr.
38. Frenkiel, Fajgla F    
39. Brauner, Sara F   Kasernenstr. 37
40. Pszenica, Szajndla F   Bergmanstr.
41. Waga, Marjem Rywka F    
42. Żmigrod, Helena F 39 Bergmanstr.
43. Abramowicz, Perla F    
44. Lokaj, Szajndla F 24  
45. Jakubowicz, Tauba Hinda F    
46. Frydler, Ita F 77 R. Kochstr. 35
47. Frochzwajg, Bajla F 29  
48. Lederman, Sala F    
49. Aronowicz, Liwcia F    
50. Jochimowicz, Sura Fajgla F   Steinstr.
51. Flach, Anna F    
52. Plesner, Hinda Fajgla F    
53. Brajtman, Masza F 80 Kl. Schrodel
54. Cymbler, Ruchla F   1. Weg 40
55. Durchschlaufer, Chana F   Kl. Schroedel 23d
56. Guzy, Fajgla F   R. Kochstr. 78
57. Aleksandrowicz, Wigdor M   Wolfberg 26
58. Wasserman, Icek M    
unknown female persons 11
unknown male persons  5

[Page 343]
The total expulsion on the 1st of August 1943

We stand in the Judenrat house and wait: “The air is unclean,” in our vernacular: Worrying rumors are spreading that tonight something serious will occur, and we wanted to know how much truth there was in these rumors. The medic, Scher, whispered secretively that tonight an “action” would undoubtedly take place against political suspects. “As for me,” he said, “I'm ready for every eventuality. They can do all they want to me, especially now that I've learned my two sons have arrived safely in Eretz Yisrael.” This Jew, an exceptionally bright scholar, had a warm Jewish heart, had worked in his profession in our district for over forty years, and was very popular among the people of the town. His very presence at the home of a sick person had a positive influence on the patient. In those days, he was despite all in a happy mood as his children had managed to reach Erez Israel! From Judenrat circles came the calming news that tonight would pass quietly. We left the house, since nine o'clock was approaching, and soon the “police hour” – the curfew – would begin. I walked, accompanied by Shlomo Lerner and Chanka Bornstein, who told me that I should come over to their place, a bunker located on a farm. If anything should happen, in spite of the calming news, it would be easier to undergo the experience together.

At half past two, I was awakened by a neighbor who had stood guard that night. “What's happened? Something?” I asked.

“I noticed a greater than usual amount of traffic on the road and around the headquarters,” he said. I promptly left Mati and climbed up on the roof. Heavy fog consumed the Sosnowiec ghetto. Dead silence. In spite of this, I noticed movement in the shadows from the direction of the large ghetto and in the headquarters in Będzin (the small ghetto in which we were situated was located near both of these two places). From time to time a flashlight was lit, and after a few moments I heard the clear cry of the Germans “Halt!” echoing in the night. It was clear, therefore, that the German police had arrived.

I woke my family and we left our house quickly, in order to make our way to our friends at the farm. However, this was no longer possible. A chain of police encircled us, guards stood in all the nearby fields, and every exit from the “Little Srodula” ghetto was blocked. Thus, there was no choice but to hide out in the bunker. My family, my sister and her daughter, and also a neighbor – seven people altogether – went down into the bunker, taking food and water that we had found in our house at the time. The entrance to the bunker was through a cupboard, appropriately disguised. The bunker contained one bed and several chairs. Air came down through two thick pipes that protruded up into a covered garden but were hidden under a pile of rocks.

At four o'clock in the morning, we heard the first sounds of shots. No doubt someone had tried to save his life by running away, breaking through the chain of the siege. As long as it was night, the Germans were frightened to enter the confines of the ghetto, and only when dawn broke did we hear their cries: “Juden raus!” [Jews, come out] accompanied by shots. Bayonets and iron bars in hand, the Germans stormed in and smashed doors and windows. The cries of beaten men and women and the weeping of children rose up to the heavens, interspersed by the sound of glass being shattered and the shots of the Germans. This horrific pogrom continued without ceasing all through the day. From our bunker we heard the bloody riot going on outside. And then there were footsteps approaching our hiding place, and they were in our house – several Germans together – and they're shouting “Juden raus!” “They are silent; they are definitely hiding,” says one of the gang, “There is certainly a bunker here.” We heard clearly how they broke into the cupboards, turned over the beds, and toppled everything onto the floor. And here they were, standing next to the cupboard that covered the entry to our bunker – an old, heavy cupboard. All that was in it, old pots and various kitchen utensils, were tossed out. My heart was pounding in terror, and we held our breath. They would soon move the plank that served as a kind of door, and they would throw aside the few rags that were used for camouflage, and they would discover the entrance. Here they were about to find us … “Nichts” (nothing) one of them finally uttered, and they began to move away from the place. We breathed a sigh of relief. “But the Jews are probably hiding somewhere” – one of their voices was heard again. And once again they returned and searched and poked into every corner, hammering the planks with iron bars, trying to find the location of the cellar. After two hours of fruitless searching, they left the house. However, after less than an hour they returned and the same drama ensued: A second and third group of Germans came to look for us and find our hiding place. Now they were rummaging through the drawers, looting any items of value. Thus it continued throughout the day: one group of Germans would go and another would come, and each rummaged and looted, and each time it seemed that they would soon discover us.

Towards evening a deadly silence befell the ghetto. Only the echoes of the German police's footsteps as they roamed the desolate streets. We had no way of knowing how much longer we would be forced to stay in our hiding place. We had one bucket of water. Three times a day each of us received a piece of bread and a cup of water. The shots and explosions at night were endless, as if someone wanted to blow up our house with dynamite. We were certain that the end had arrived. Surely our house's turn would come.

The next day, with dawn, the Germans returned to loot our house. In the house next door they discovered a bunker in the attic – the walls were breached with iron bars. The residents of the bunker were thrown out into the street. And so the Jews that were found in the second and third houses were led away. Suddenly we heard the sound of a horse's hooves. The clear voice of a horseman reached me through the water pipe: “Ach, ihr Judengesindel, marsch!” (You gang of Jews, move!), and the shouts and cries of the beaten, and the whimpering of the children, filled the void. The horse tramples people, stomps on children, breaking skulls (I later chanced to meet with this rider, Officer Fulter). And again another day passes of horrendous sights and gloom. Wouldn't it be better to swallow a dose of cyanide here in the bunker and be freed of this unending and hopeless nightmare? Still I overcame and dispersed these bitter thoughts. High up here, breathing is becoming more and more difficult in the stifling atmosphere of the bunker. In this choking atmosphere a match will only light next to the ventilation pipes. Only at night can we open the entrance to the house upstairs, in order to breathe some fresh air. The supply of water has also run out. In the darkness of the night, my wife fetches a bucket of rainwater, and we quench our thirsts, after which she brings another bucket for the coming day. The Nazis cut off the water supply to the ghettos and it was good, at least, that it had rained. But what would the future hold? Again on the second and third nights, rifle and machine-gun shots continued unceasingly, and at times there were dynamite explosions. I was certain that at night the Jews who were caught in the bunkers were executed, and perhaps they are completely destroying our ghetto and wiping it off the face of the earth in the same way they did to the Warsaw Ghetto? Only later, by chance, did I get to see what the Germans had instigated. They used, among other things, a sort of noisemaker that produced sounds of shots, in order to induce horror…

We lost track of time. Here, in the bunker, the one dark night continued endlessly. The water ration was exhausted, as was the bread. And so we decided to leave the bunker and take our chances, since we could endure no more. Perhaps we'd manage to break out of the Sosnowiec ghetto; perhaps we'd find other Jews? We returned and entered our apartment, and initially we could not see anything, a profusion of light blinding us. Soon an appalling sight was spread out before us, a pogrom: sheets, scraps of clothing, flour, beans, photos, spoons, broken plates – all scattered in a crazy jumble. We breathed deeply the air that we had badly missed in the days that we'd been in the bunker: we sat silently, like mourners beside the dead, and waited. The fear of death passed and disappeared. We are no longer frightened. We are prepared for it, if only it will come quickly and be delayed no longer.

[Page 344]

Suddenly we heard human footsteps. A German soldier entered the apartment, weaponless, no doubt coming to look for gold and valuables. When he saw us, he stepped back, full of fear. We called him back and dared to suggest that he help us get out of the ghetto in exchange for all that we have. The soldier replied that this was impossible, since a large army surrounded the ghetto, and the situation was similar in Sosnowiec. They were clearing the whole region of Zaglembia of Jews. He suggested that we go with him in order to spare ourselves, at least, the torment of blows and beatings. We took clean underwear out of the pile stacked up in the middle of the room. We took off our filthy clothes and put them on, in the process of which my son called out, “Mother, take the white apron along.” “What do we need an apron for?” I asked him. “It will come in handy,” he said, without knowing then, of course, that this would save us from death. The soldier took us up to the headquarters, where there were already a number of other Jews. They stripped us naked. They stole all our remaining possessions – money and watches. A small quantity of cyanide had been sewn inside my niece's skirt. The Germans discovered this. She begged that they give her back the poison, but they just howled with laugher. The women were immediately taken to work cleaning floors, while my son and I were taken to move furniture for the German soldiers.

At five in the morning, we were taken to a central courtyard in the large ghetto, preceding our expulsion. Next to the house, where the “kibbutz” was located, I saw Herschel Springer, Hajka Klinger, Sara Koklaka, Aliza Zintfeld, and other kibbutz members, who were being taken, like us, for expulsion. I called out to him from across the way, “Herschel!” He covered his mouth with his hand to indicate that we shouldn't speak to him.

Night came and we contemplated organizing places to sleep for the night. Suddenly Lieutenant Hopp (a well-known sadist who was hated by the German soldiers because of his cruelty; his behavior towards Jews goes without saying!) entered and ordered us to stand in line. He selected the ones that he didn't like, which included my son, and sent them back for expulsion. My wife approached him and said, “Lieutenant, Sir, I serve here as the kitchen manager, and this is my son. Please leave him here.” He lifted his riding crop (which was always with him) and whipped her savagely across the face. “Quiet! This is your son? You'll go with him, as well.” And there she was standing next to him. Even though I wanted to join them, my wife motioned for me to stay – she'd find a way to help her herself.

I remained by myself. Fifty meters away stood my mother, wife, son and sister; and a sword of destruction hung over their heads. I decided to set out in the darkness of night to join them, but the gates of the camp were locked. A blow from a rifle butt to my shoulder threw me aside with, “What are you doing here!” I returned to the cabin. Twenty people were sprawled across the floor, wearing their patched clothing. I squat on the floor but I can't manage to sleep. The cabin is lit brightly – as every half-hour a guard comes to check that everything is in order. I look at these twenty Jews and ponder, “Is this all that remains of the great Będzin Jewish community, which once numbered thirty thousand people? How did it happen?” And it seems that this is just a nightmare, which will soon pass with the darkness of night. However, I soon reawaken and return to this terrible reality. Every couple of minutes someone wakes and a groan is heard – oy, mother! All of these people belong to a branch that was broken from a sprouting family tree. There those sprawled on the floor, and their eyes display a look of gloom that reflects the terror of the last few days….

Dawn breaks. People rise awkwardly, treading heavily, oblivious to everything. They don't wash their hands. They don't rinse their faces. And why is this? Will anything stop today's expulsion?

This is the third day that I've been in the labor camp. The expulsion has ended. While the ghetto is still surrounded by a police cordon, “the brigade of the dead” is overburdened with work; this is a group of Jews tasked with collecting the bodies of Jews killed during the expulsion. For this purpose, they are given a horse and cart. They have to collect the 2,000 victims from Będzin and the 800 victims from Sosnowiec.

We don't know how these 2,800 victims fell, although typically they had forcibly resisted their expulsion. Yet to my great dismay, there are no living witnesses, although we undoubtedly know the truth behind the horrific genocide that occurred during the expulsion. The following is a small chapter of this bloody affair, as conveyed to us by our friends, Herschel Wandersman, later murdered by the Germans in Budapest, and David Rojznes, who drowned when the ship “Mefkuda” was sunk by the Germans on its way to Erez Israel.

“We stayed in a hideout in the attic. Through holes in the walls, we saw the German police approaching the house opposite ours. As they opened the gate, they shouted their familiar cry of “Juden raus”; and a group of desperate Jews armed with sticks, rocks and knives fell upon them. The battle between the Jews and the enemy, whose numbers were superior and were heavier armed, did not last long. After half an hour, all the Jews, to the last man, had fallen”.

If not for the “brigade of the dead,” we wouldn't know how the “Frumke Plotnitzka” group fell. They relate:

“Seven kibbutz members were in the bunker – Frumke Plotnitzka, Baruch Gaptak, Frumke Dolnarova, Cypora Boczian, Chedva Bernard, Tuvia Devorski and Pnina Yaakobovicz. All of them were members of kibbutz “Dror” in Będzin. On the fourth day of the expulsion, two Germans approached the bunker's spyhole. Baruch Geftak, thinking that the bunker had now been discovered, did not take time to deliberate and opened fire on them right away.

Two high-ranking Gestapo officers had fallen victim. The Germans immediately lay siege to the house and opened fire on it from every direction. The comrades returned fire and prevented the Germans from approaching them. But due to the intensity of the assault, the windows and the floor of the house caught fire. The comrades in the bunker continued to return fire. Frumke didn't stop shooting with her pistol for a moment. The Germans were then compelled to call the fire brigade, who flooded the hideout with water. Later, the Jewish police were ordered to retrieve the seven bodies that were still writhing. Frumke tried to lift herself up and speak, but a Gestapo soldier attacked her, kicking and trampling her, and the others that were still alive, with his boots until they breathed their last.”

We don't know how the members of “Gordonia,” who were hiding out in a farm cellar, fell. Shlomo Bornstein, Shlomo Lerner, Natke and many others of these devoted pioneers,were brave boys, who found death in the farm or were slain at Auschwitz.

[Page 345]

I stayed in the labor camp in Będzin for four months. Each and every day, the Germans found additional bunkers. In most of them there were still Jews hiding out. Never once did a German enter a bunker, as they were afraid. I remember how the police that guarded us talked among themselves in this regard and joked about the officer, our camp commandant, who would approach a bunker with his drawn pistol in front of him, and then, standing at a distance close to a wall, yell out, “Juden raus!” It seems that the bunkers cost them quite a few casualties. They were embarrassed to talk about Germans killed by the Jews. In fact, the idea of resistance began to penetrate various levels of the Jewish population, but to our sorrow we didn't have any means to defend ourselves. And for this we will never forgive our Polish neighbors; in the days of trial and tribulation, while we carried out a terrible and desperate struggle with the armed and murderous gangs, they wouldn't help us obtain weapons. Hence our ability was limited: knives and stones against machine guns. There is no doubt, that if the Jews of Będzin had had sufficient weapons, we could have put up a respectable defense. Unfortunately we were lacking these items in the cases of the resistance and lone battles that took place. The dead took to their graves the secret of their desperation and heroic death.

I am walking accompanied by a German guard to look for food in the ghetto's abandoned houses. The ghetto gives a terrifying impression of unforgettable horror. The stillness of death lingers here. No man, no living thing, about. Single German soldiers stroll amid the ruins in order to loot them, and each tries to hide from his companions what he's found. The doors and the windows are smashed. Here half a window is hanging, the other half thrown on the ground. As the wind blows, a sort of wailing moan is heard through the breaches in the houses, and one imagines that the houses are lamenting the death of the residents, who have been cruelly torn from the land of the living. The wailing of women weeping for the untimely death of their children, whose blood and brains had sprayed and flowed like water, and congealed on mourning walls…

Here is a small shoe that has been flung from a child on his way to annihilation. A short distance away from this – a prosthesis. Torn bedding lies tossed on a balcony. A small tallis flaps on a fence and twists its fringes, as if trying to oust the defiling forces, the evil spirits, that have penetrated the ghetto. There are three hats lying near a small house. Just a few days ago, they covered the heads of living Jews, a father and his two sons (Herskowicz, the carpenter, and his sons) who were murdered here; their hats survive to bear silent witnesses to that which has taken place next to this rent and ruined house. Bricks have been taken from the oven, shattered and smashed. Floor tiles are cracked, walls are destroyed; everything is upside-down and in disarray. All that had been in the cupboards and drawers has been thrown outside – underwear, pots, photographs, a plate, salt, clothes – in one jumbled pile. It is impossible to stay in this house.

The chimneys of the houses whose smoke no longer rises from them stand upright as silent gravestones above this city of the dead.

Once more, two weeks later, the Gestapo men woke us up at eleven o'clock at night. They selected 15 Jews – including Avraham Zilberstein and Benny Menachem – and led them out with them. We were certain that they would be murdered. But to our great surprise, they came back after an hour and told us that a Gestapo company from Auschwitz had led them to the fields, to places where Jews were buried. A Gestapo man took a watch from his pocket and told them, “You have a quarter of an hour to open the graves and load the corpses on the transport. If you take any longer, we'll shoot you like dogs, and it will be your own bones we take in this truck.” A horrific scene was revealed to them. With their bare hands, they collected the remains of the corpses, which were in an advanced state of decay. The next day, too, and in following days, they were forced to take part in this labor – to open graves in the ghetto with their bare hands, to take out the bodies of our blessed ones, and load them onto the truck.

We came across the bodies of murdered Jews while cleaning up the Jewish houses. We entered a house. Darkness. A dark sheet still covers the window. We immediately sense the presence of a dead body in the room. We open the window, and there before us lies an elderly couple in bed. We approach them and look at them closely. The bloody stains on their clothes attest to the way that they died. In one of the attics, inside a large tank, lies the huddled body of a child with a piece of bread in his hand. It appears that he ran away during the commotion and sought refuge in the tank where he'd died. In the bunkers, the bodies of children and young babies were numerous, some lying in prams and bassinets. The German overseer later ordered us to burn the bodies. Every few days, we were forced to prepare a special kind of bonfire: a pile of books, Jewish texts, the Babylonian Talmud and books of the Zohar, the Lagretz Jewish History book and Tzlika Hapruah, Lasgolovicz and many more – and on top, a boy's body. We poured kerosene on the pile and ignited it. Books… children… the strength of the nation and its future – all their raging hatred was poured out upon them. For those who had shown hardly any resistance, this bloody persecution had reached new heights – in their lives and in their deaths.

Bed-345s.jpg [4 KB] - Click here to enlarge the picture
Israel Justman,
one of the important men in Będzin,
particpating in hard labour

Work in the ghetto progressed rapidly. Room after room, house after house, was emptied of its furniture and remaining belongings. The Germans continued to keep a tight watch on the ghetto. No German civilian or Pole, was allowed to enter, apart from the Polish wagon drivers working in transport. All the belongings were centrally located in a large lot, in an enormous pile, and fifty Jews in special rooms dealt with the sorting and storage. Each room held a certain type of goods. The Jews of Będzin were well to do, with Będzin the wealthiest of the Zaglembian cities. The Germans were astonished at the sight of the expensive items that were found in the Jewish houses: silver ware, candelabra, menorahs, perfume containers, silver plates and other grand utensils – and this was after part of them had already been stolen by the Germans or previously sold by the Jews themselves in order to survive. Apart from these, there was crystal ware with which the Jews customarily ornamented their cabinets. Several rooms were filled with crystal items, ceramic dishes, kitchen ware sets from Czechoslovakia that were hard to come by, glassware, machines and countless works of art. Lying outside in the rain was the well-known painting, “Boy with a Cat.” This was the work of the famous Jewish artist, M. Apelbaum, bought at a price of 5,000 gold coins by Asher Firstburg, one of Będzin's wealthy. All kinds of watches and old clocks made from burnished brass. One such clock, an old and expensive piece, coated in enamel and with brass hands, was hung in the camp's dining room. Every quarter of an hour, a small door would open in the upper part of the clock, and a cuckoo would come out of it, announcing the time. A drunken German soldier chose the clock as a shooting target and “wiped out” the clock.

[Page 346]

In short, the belongings of generations, from the labor and dedication of countless Jews, lay before us in ruin, ready to be transported to the thieves' capital in Berlin. Everything was sorted, as if for an exhibition. In each department, the camp manager made a Jew responsible for keeping the items pleasantly and aesthetically organized, is as to find favor with the officers and high officials who would come to admire the riches, and to buy all sorts of items from the stolen property for the price of pennies.

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The last children's institute
which was exiled to Auschwitz

However, there was one thing these high-ranking officers did not come to terms with: no set of dishes was complete. There were always one or two items missing, and all the searches, and even all the rewards that were offered, were to no avail. “What is different about these people?” they growled. One of the thieves happened on an expensive set of Japanese dishes. Alas the same misfortune prevailed - the jug was missing its lid, the sugar container was missing its handles, and so on. In every case there were always “irregularities,” and the Germans cursed and raged and were exasperated. Electric lights, for instance, that were in every home, reached the central location in limited numbers, and most of these were burnt out. Similar was the fate of the shoes. Ten Jews labored whole weeks in sorting, but they rarely managed to come up with complete pairs. The German, Lorenz, who oversaw this work, cursed and raged, and changed the workers, but his efforts were in vain. The Germans, so deeply engrossed in their looting, never considered that this was no coincidence, but rather the result of organized vandalism. When we would bring them a little coffee or tea (usually hard to come by), they were so delighted that their minds were distracted from us. We wouldn't miss an opportunity to vandalize or destroy anything we placed our hands on, since we were very, very saddened by the fact that, after the great slaughter, they still came to receive reward.

On Yom Kippur we approached Lorenz, the camp work manager, that he might let us off work for that day. After some persuasion, he reluctantly agreed that we work until 12 o'clock noon. After work, the Jews stood to pray in public. The prayer of these desperate Jews - how may I describe it? There were several other Jews in the camp who declared that, for all the riches in the world, they wouldn't work on Yom Kippur, and we hid them out of the camp manager's sight. At this point, I'll talk about one of these, Pincza, Moshe Stajer's son, who was a member of the “Young Israel Union” in Będzin. In the years 1941-42, he was exiled to a work camp in Silesia, together with Neta Gotter, the manager of the Yesod Hatorah cheder. He survived on a bare minimum of food and refused to be spoiled by delicacies. It is hard to explain how he managed to survive. When he arrived, he was exempted, through Marin's intervention, from being conscripted for hard labor. A month after the expulsion, he was captured by German soldiers when he left a bunker in search of water. He wouldn't reveal his hiding place, and after he was severely tortured, he pointed to a different bunker. In his own hiding place, his wife and children remained, and he continued to take care of their needs. After a while, they were compelled to leave the bunker – as a result of the cleaning and removal work that was being carried out in the house – and we hid them in the attic within the camp. He, too, remained in the camp. On account of the dietarylaws, he would not dine with us and instead prepared meals for himself. He was the only one who would not acknowledge the disciplinary regulations of the camp and did not carry them out. During the morning roll call, he was busy praying. Once it occurred that we were standing in line after lunch, getting ready to return to work, and he was not there. After endless searching, we found him in the attic, sitting in a succah that he had built for himself (this was during the holiday of Succot) and reading the Succot prayers out loud… Because of this he was going to be sent to Auschwitz. We managed to lessen the punishment, and he was punished by being locked in a cold, dark basement for seven days, with bread and water for food. It seems that he wasn't greatly upset by this, and for all seven days of his imprisonment, he read psalms aloud and made fun of the camp commandant.

At four o'clock in the morning on a wet November day, we were compelled, several Jews, on the camp commandant's orders, to remove the bodies of twelve Jews from their graves within the confines of the ghetto. We loaded the bodies onto a wagon, and guarded by an armed German policeman, we took them to a mass grave in the large “city of the dead.” We said kaddish, the first kaddish for the souls of our many tortured and slaughtered brothers, the souls of a community of 25,000 people that had been murdered. And it seemed that it was our duty to say this last kaddish for our own souls, as well – we that were doomed to death, we the last Jews – “Yitgadal veyitkadash…”

Among the twelve martyrs whose bodies we took for burial in the Czaladz cemetery was Mrs. Vandersman, who died in the bunker where she had hidden with her son, Hershel (who later left with us for Hungary and was later murdered by the Germans). The German policeman who accompanied us selected the burial plots. After we had said kaddish, and as we prepared to leave, someone noticed a tombstone nearby with the name Vandersman engraved upon it. This, by chance, was the burial plot of the husband of the woman we had brought for a Jewish burial, and her bones rested beside his.

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