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[Page 355]

That Which Will Not Be Forgotten… {Cont.}

As soon as she received that certificate she applied to the Judenrat who suggested she should keep it secret. She was in danger because she had not reported in time for registration of foreign citizens.

Later, when the possibility of being rescued utilizing all kinds of certificates came up, she appealed to the Judenrat again and they sent her to Lewinsztajn who was in charge of all the matters concerning the German police. It so happened that while she was with Lewinsztajn, Drier the murderer, the director of the “Jewish Department” of the Gestapo, paid a visit to the Judenrat. As usual, the directors of the Judenrat were hysterical.

Lewinsztajn asked her to wait until Dreyer left. Mrs. Bornsztajn became frantic and did not wait. On her second visit with Lewinsztajn she explained that she had not waited simply because she had seen that people were at a complete loss. Lewinsztajn was so insulted at her “impudence” to describe the Judenrat 'at a complete loss' during Dreyer's visit, that he ordered her to leave his office and refused to take care of her papers. She had told me the whole story when she came to visit me in prison. And now, on my visit with him, I thought it would be appropriate to raise her case again. Lewinsztajn admitted that the woman's story was accurate, but still refused to handle her papers as a lesson to those who conveyed an attitude of “Jewish rudeness” towards the Judenrat, and although he made a great effort to present himself as “rescuer” and “saver”, he could not overcome his sense of megalomania and “forgive” the poor woman for a sin she never committed.

I left Lewinsztajn feeling dejected and wretched and almost “fell” into Meryn's arms. I had had a few meetings with Moniek Meryn, who was the “elder of the Judenrats” in the east of Silesia, on affairs of the youth, which always ended without results. I had tried hard to avoid meeting him because it was never possible to know how the meeting was going to end.

Fanny Czarna (his “brain” and secretary) had more than once rescued me from his wrath at our attempts to evade his proposals. She knew how to close the meeting at the right moment, and Meryn left us alone until the next time. It was hard for us to know the reason: had he forgotten his proposals or did Czarna convince him not to pressure us ?

This time too, I had all the reasons to dread this unexpected encounter. Meryn knew I was supposed to be in jail at that time, and to leaving it without his knowledge (that is, his help) was an unforgivable crime; second, I knew how angry he was because of the passports…

Meryn invited me into his office and without asking me what I was doing there he started talking as if he was taking up the conversation from the point we had just finished a few minutes before. “Soon you will go away, and I will stay here to continue my role,” he said. “I was in Hungary and could escape. I didn't do it because of the responsibility I bear. You too have to cancel the journey and stay. After all, you are a veteran activist and you belong here, with us,” he said.

I replied that it was not the right hour for activists but for efficient clerks, who knew how to take orders. In order to soften him I added something about my health and insisted on having to leave. Then he required that I write to our friends in Switzerland and tell them to maintain contacts with him only. He also threatened that if I refused he will react accordingly, because he knew what was going on, anyway, and if he wanted – nobody would leave Będzin.

I turned down this demand too. I tried to argue that he was taking on a very great responsibility and he should weigh it very carefully before he took a step like that. As for Switzerland, I said, everybody wrote and I did not have any influence on our friends in Switzerland.

This demand, to hand him, Meryn, the management of the passports and the correspondence with Switzerland, was not accidental, but the result of his way of thinking that only he should take care of everything related to the Jews in “his zone”.

The universe closed in on me*

by Baruch Gaptak

(Hebrew translation: Moshe Basok)

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld

bed355a.gif [19 KB] - Poem
bed355b.gif [13 KB] - Poem

* Survivors from Będzin relate that this song was written in Yiddish by Baruch Gaptak, the commander of the Jewish fighters in Będzin (he fell on the 3rd of August 1943 defending a bunker with Frumke Plotnicka), and was sung by the Będzin fighters.

I have a letter from the 2nd June 1943 in my possession to A. Szwarcbaum in Lausanne signed by Meryn himself in which he asks, politely but firmly, to stop all correspondence with private people in “our zone” In the end of the letter he asks to pass this request to the rest of the friends – in brackets “Schwalbe”.

Meryn also carried out his threat that nobody would leave Będzin. A group of thirty passport owners were sent to Auschwitz. Previously to this the passport owners had been arrested by the Judenrat.

I was granted release from detention until 13:00. I had to hurry in order to arrive on time. But I decided to see again my family and friends. I explained to the Jewish policeman that I had to take care of some matter in the Judenrat. He believed me and took me to the Środula Ghetto

During the less than three weeks since my arrest the Ghetto had been destroyed and the Jews were concentrated in a small ghetto in Środula. It is hard to describe the sight of the town without Jews – (the Poles had not yet entered the houses), on the one hand, and on the other hand, Środula, which was hardly a village, into which they had squeezed Jews 20 times its capacity.

My family was living “in luxury”. They had received a small room and a tiny kitchen. Here my mother lived with my brother Szlomo, my sister Rachel Fefer with her husband Cwi and their children Jadzia and Elek, my brother Dawid, his wife Miriam and their son Menachem, and in addition, so as not to allow them to feel too comfortable, a strange girl. There were ten adults altogether.

My visit was a pleasant surprise for them, and therefore the separation was more difficult… At the time I met Frumke, Chaike, Pejsachson, Szpringer, Cymerman and others. The news was not encouraging. They mentioned a number of revolvers, Toszka's visit from Częstochowa, Pejsachson's preparations for travel to Warsaw, the bunkers and especially the approaching end and the very few preparations for resistance…

I returned to prison. It was 5 in the afternoon.

At its entrance the prison commander was waiting for me. The “Ordnungsdienst”, who had brought me back, wasn't able to explain why he had brought me back so late. He was immediately attacked with a hail of beatings and kicks. And as soon as the commander had “finished” with the policeman, he turned to me. He was short, with a belly hanging over crooked legs and a big head glued to his shoulders, a red face full of pimples, small grey eyes, a fleshy nose which was always in motion…

[Page 356]

“The butcher“ (that was how prisoners and jailers alike used to call him) would walk with a cane, one end of which had a metal ball covered with leather. He used that cane to mercilessly beat the prisoners who worked in the prison's garden.

As for our group, he rarely ever approached us. When we saw him in the distance, we would enter the house at the end of the garden – our detention area. “The butcher” could not fathom the fact that we were strange Jews, whom he was not allowed to hurt…And here, and now, I myself gave him an excuse to retaliate.

As soon as he had closed the gate behind the Jewish policeman, he turned to me. He licked his lips, as if he had just finished a delicious meal, but his face remained expressionless. Only his nose kept moving in all directions…

All of a sudden I felt a hail of slaps. He quickly pulled out his cane from under his belt but instead of beating me, he began cursing and screaming at me, at my parents, at Judas Iscariot, at those “string-pullers” in Wall Street… The representative of the “Herrenvolk” [master race] was afraid to hurt me, “the owner of the American passport“. Therefore he started by pouring his fury on the Jewish policeman, and then, without stopping his stream of insults and abuses he ordered a thorough search to be performed on me and then to “throw” me somewhere…

After the search, the jailer took me to a place which was apparently a dungeon, without flooring nor a window and where the only light penetrated from cracks in the door. After about two-three hours they brought me some food. I refused to accept it. I spent the night sitting, because it was impossible to stand or walk. In the morning they brought me food again, and again I refused. The jailer whispered to me, “Don't worry. They will soon let you out of here, and you will all go to America, by submarine,” he added, “there is no other way…”

At about nine they transferred me to the detention area of our group.

I saw “the butcher” only the following day, as he was entering the bus which took us to the railway station, on our way to Tittmoning camp. He approached me and said, half laughing half screaming, “Don't forget to send me coffee…”

Only few of our families and friends came to see us off.

[Page 356]

The Underground in Będzin and its Vicinity

by Dawid Liwer

Translated by Nitsa Bar-Sela

Despite the pain and the many restrictive laws that the Jews of Będzin suffered, the Zionist activity of the youth of our town, in all its streams and varieties, never stopped. Gordonia, Hashomer Hatzair, Hano'ar Hatzioni, Hashomer Hadati and Kibbutz “Dror” held meetings, provided information, trained and educated its members. All these ramified activities were, of course, clandestine, and were carried out in underground conditions without the Judenrat leaders' knowledge, although they occurred within the boundaries of their authority.

The Youth Farm – The Center of Activity

Even in 1940 the German authorities allocated 300 dunams for agricultural elaboration to the Judenrat. The Germans divided this space into lots. Some of them were designed for the Jews to grow vegetables in and some were left for the Germans. The Jews, however, after a long day of hard work and struggling to survive under the German whip, were not able to make any profit from these lots which were, by the way, very far from their town – a matter that required a special license to travel there. Yet these disadvantages turned into advantages for the youth who started to develop the land. And this is how the farm was founded as a place of training for agricultural work for the Zionist youth. What enabled such a remarkable achievement was the fact that the director of this farm was then Ari Liwer. He was a member of the Hitachdut and a pupil of Gordonia. He maintained a very strong connection with the youth, helped to organize their meetings and held talks on Zionist issues. Thus, the farm turned into a meeting place for the active urban youth of the three towns – Będzin, Sosnowiec and Dabrowa – in all their spheres, from “Freiheit” to “Hapoel Hamizrachi” who used to hold their meetings there. Those who came to the farm on Shabbat felt disconnected from the atmosphere of the war and forgot all about their everyday hardships. The vibrant energies of thousands of youth, the songs of Erez-Israel and the excitement of the Hora dances filled the air. And it was so hard to leave the farm members and return to town, to the tragic reality. Still, only a few months had passed and the Judenrat forbade Jews to visit the fields of the farm, except for those who worked there. A few policemen of the Jewish organization were appointed to execute this prohibition. A. Liwer, the director of the farm, was summoned to the Judenrat office, where he was told that he would be held responsible for any illegal meetings on the farm. However, the youth did not pay any attention to this decree and continued their activities.

Meryn's Demands

Moreover: At the end of 1942 there was a visit to the farm which encouraged and strengthened the youth activity. Aron Menczel, a member of the “Maccabi Tzair” came from Vienna to Zagłębie with a forged passport. He held meetings and talks with all the youth groups on the topic of “the way of the Jewish youth at this hour.” For already quite a while this young man had been the liaison between us and the contact office of the Histadrut in Switzerland. He used to transfer bulletins and other materials to us about what was going on in Erez Israel and detailed protocols typed up on a typewriter (the letters from Vienna to Będzin were not censored). Under his influence a advisory office for youth was established which consisted of representatives of pioneering youth movements who decided to protest against the Judenrat. This decision enraged the Judenrat people: Meryn, Molczacki and others. Meryn sent for the youth movement representatives assuming that nobody would dare rise against him. He required that they be in permanent contact with him and insisted on supervising their activities. The young people decisively informed him that they would refuse to operate under the Judenrat. In view of the youths strong opposition Meryn begins to threaten that any attempt to act without the Judenrat's permission would be suppressed. He appoints Molczacki political commissar of the youth who, in turn, avoids any contact with him. Then Meryn carries out his threat. When the next draft of youth to forced labor is due, many members are summoned to “Arbeitseinsatz” and many of the members of the youth movements are expelled to labor camps in upper Silesia. Amongst them was Baruch Gaptak, who managed to escape and return to Będzin (later on he was the commander of defense of the town). Despite everything, the youths did not change their attitude and opposition to the Judenrat remained strong until the end.

[Page 357]

Geler and Anielewicz's Mission

At the beginning of 1941 Eliezer Geler, a member of the head leadership of Gordonia, succeeded in reaching Będzin from Warsaw. In the youth meeting he presented an account of what was going on in the capital and of the decision of the members in the center to organize self defense. Despite the great difficulties in acquiring arms the Polish underground were standing by and not assisting. Also in Bialystok and Vilna the members were busy organizing Jewish defense. They were waiting to get help in ammunition and instructions from Warsaw. Due to the deportations to labor camps, the youth was depressed and Geler's visit raised their spirits and filled them with hope.

After staying a few months in Będzin and its surroundings, Geler returned to Warsaw promising to visit again soon.

In June 1942 Mordechai Anielewicz came to Będzin. A meeting was held at night on the farm with the participation of 25 members of youth movements: Hashomer Hatzair, Gordonia, Kibbutz Dror and the parties Hitachdut and Poalei Zion. In this meeting, which was conducted in Hebrew, Mordechai Anielewicz unveiled, in a two-hour account, the defense preparations of the Hebrew youth in Warsaw, Bialistock and Vilna. The Vilna members had decided to be the first to start the armed uprising against the Germans. However then it was decided that the uprising would start everywhere simultaneously. The Jewish youth of Będzin, whose representatives were present too, would have to obey this decision regarding defense. The difficulties of getting arms in Warsaw were severe. The Polish underground were standing apart and up till then had not offered any assistance. They were alone and isolated in their desperate fight. The Polish underground were abundant with arms, but they would not sell anything even for the highest bid. They were waiting for the reply of a communist group, with whom they had been negotiating lately regarding arms. However, they all knew that no matter what, they would defend the Jewish honor even if they had to fight with knives and stones against the enemy that was equipped with modern equipment. That was the essence of Anielewicz's speech. The discussion lasted the whole night and many took part in it: Chanka Borensztajn, the two Pejsachson sisters, Chaika Klinger, Baruch Gaptak and others. At dawn, members who were on guard reminded us that it was time to disband. The 25 members who participated in this meeting dispersed and returned to town one by one.

The First Defense Group

Anielewicz remained in the area of Zagłębie for two weeks and under his guidance the first defense group was founded. Its name was “Lakrav” (To the fight) and its leader was Ari Liwer from Gordonia. His deputees were Jadzia Pejsachson from Hashomer Hatzair, Baruch Gaptak from kibbutz “Dror” and Israel Diamant from the No'ar Zioni. Later on there were other leaders. Efforts were made to convince Left Po'alei Zion to join the defense activities. “Lakrav” group published a bulletin to the youth [calling them] to join the defense forces.

At the end of September 1942 Eliezer Geler returned for the second time bringing 10 youths, members of Gordonia, from Warsaw and its environs. Eliezer met Meryn, who treated him with great respect and had always welcomed him warmly, and suggested a plan to save part of the youth : Geler had a Christian acquaintance who was the director of the labor office in Kielce. In return for money he was willing to provide Jews with forged labor certificates and send them with Aryan passports to work in Germany and Italy. At first Meryn accepted this plan and also promised to help with money. However after consulting his close assistants he changed his mind and forbade Geler to act in our district. Geler decided to return to Warsaw but we implored him to stay in Będzin, promising to do the utmost in order to legalize his stay. He refused saying that Warsaw was getting ready and he, being a member of the leadership of Gordonia in Poland had to be there at that hour. Friends who were very close to him wanted to join him, but he rejected the idea saying that they had to stay and start the defense preparations in our place. Those were his words of farewell.

A Leaflet to the Germans – In Boots…

The idea of defense started to materialize amongst the youth of Będzin and Sosnowiec after the disaster of the 12th of August (800 Jews were sent to Auschwitz). We issued an illegal leaflet in hectograph which informed the people of the intentions of the Judenrat. There were articles which criticized “King” Meryn, and reflected the views of the thousand Jews of Zagłębie. Despite their efforts, the Judenrat could not trace the origins of this leaflet and its creators. The chairman of the Judenrat, Molczacki, used to snoop around in his employees' drawers, hoping to find illegal literature there, but the members of the party of Poalei Zion and the Hit'achdut, who published this leaflet, took the highest precautions and even their closest friends did not know about their activities. Also in Sosnowiec the Dunski's group from the Hashomer Hatzair [movement] issued leaflets to the Jewish public calling them not to comply with the Judenrat's labor call-up and not to obey their orders.

In Gurecki's shop notes were found in boots that were made for the German army. Mysterious hands inserted a leaflet written in German into every boot, calling the soldiers in the eastern front to surrender, become prisoners of war and thus save their lives and the lives of the Soviet soldiers. This enterprise was executed by the group of Hanoar Hazioni.

As part of the struggle against the Judenrat, it was decided to carry out an attempt on Meryn's life. Dunski and another two members agreed to undertake this mission. They ambushed him, but Meryn turned up with too many guards surrounding him.

Meryn hands over 4 youths to death

Meanwhile, after arduous efforts, Meryn succeeded in locating the hectograph in an attic in Sosnowiec, where Dunski lived. Meryn ordered to arrest him, but the boy escaped and went into hiding. Then Meryn ordered to arrest a great number of his friends and put pressure on them to hand him over. This too was in vain. Now Meryn ordered the arrest of his mother and sister in the orphanage building in Będzin, and in the meantime the Jewish policemen continued to look for his hiding place. At the beginning of February, 1943, Hela Szancer's house, where Cwi Dunski had been hiding, was surrounded by the Jewish police and Cwi was captured together with Lipek Minc. A short while beforehand, two young boys were arrested by the Judenrat in Będzin: Bobek Graubart (Rabbi Graubart's grandson) and Zachariasz). They were suspected of revolutionary activity and, as therefore – handed over to the Gestapo, who beat and tortured them atrociously. They were particularly cruel towards Dunski, hanging him by the feet and beating him brutally. They demanded that he give out the names of those who helped him issue the leaflets. But he did not yield. Then the four of them were transferred to Myslowice, to the political prison. Cwi managed to smuggle a letter from prison, in which he wrote that Meryn had signed a protocol to the Gestapo according to which they were accused of communist activity. He also encouraged the members to persevere in their struggle against the Germans to the bitter end. Very soon the Judenrat center received a note from the commander of the camp in Auschwitz that these Jews were sentenced to death for communist activity, were executed and exterminated in the crematorium.

[Page 358]

Będzin, April 22, 1943


According to information supplied by representative office of the Gestapo in Sosnowiec, the persons listed below were sentenced to be shot to death on the grounds of high treason.

The verdict was executed in Auschwitz on March 29, 1943.

On the order of the above-mentioned authority, five persons from the close family of each condemned man are to be summoned and to informed of the execution of the verdict.

The death certificates – on supplying all necessary data – can be requested from the registry office in Auschwitz.

Graubart Beer born 13.07.1923, Będzin
Brodkiewicz Kalma born 05.09.1912, Będzin
Breitbart Naftali born 15.09.1913, Psary
Jakobson Chaim born 1915, Zarnowiec
Meryn Aron born 03.04.1917, Będzin
Szenberg Wolf born 05.07.1916, Będzin
Szemberg Moszek born 15.05.1895, Zarki
Saszarjasz Szmul Lajb born 15.10.1920, Dortmund

Signed by the
Head Office
of the Council of Elders
in East Upper Silesia
Seat of Sosnowiec
Bed-358.jpg [54 KB] - Meryn informs the "Judenrat"

Meryn informs the “Judenrat” about the execution of eight young men

Defense or Rescue?

Meanwhile we started to receive passports of American subjects from Switzerland for many members. This opened a stormy argument among the pioneering youth: rescue or defense. The majority of the youth were inclined to choose defense because of a basic argument: in the period of their people's annihilation pioneers must not deal with rescuing themselves but rather help their people by defending their life and honor. The older ones, on the other hand, thought they must rescue as many as possible and that rescue does not invalidate defense, but this opinion was held by the minority. Therefore the members of Gordonia, Hanka Bernsztajn and Szlomo Cymerman, Kalman Blacharz, Szlomo Lerner and Cwi Brandes of the Hashomer Hatzair, who were already equipped with passports, decided to stay and keep their passports as the last resort. Nevertheless, rescue activities of the Jewish youth continued. Young men with Aryan papers were sent to work in Germany, Austria and Slovakia. It was Bolek Kozuch of the Zionist youth who was in charge of preparing the Aryan certificates. His group of helpers attained letter sheets of various German companies, rubber stamps of the Gestapo and identity cards. With the help of the liquid which serves for dying hair and hydrogen acid they deleted the Jewish surnames and wrote Polish names instead. In addition, they prepared the proper labor certificates and in time of emergency it was possible to cross the border equipped with these papers. Many people were captured by the Gestapo but a few of them stood firm and were saved. This group did not forget to take part in the underground. They succeeded in getting hold of a few revolvers and changed their coats to look like the shirts of the “Hitlerjugend” so that they could wear them outside the ghetto.

However, with the death of Josef Kozuch the group stopped its activities.

After every round-up of Jews by the Germans it seemed that life in the ghetto returned to normalcy, to the routine worries and suffering as before. As a matter of fact, it was only a false tranquility. The German methods were clear: first they used the youth labor power, then they robbed the Jewish property and in the end they took lives. Some ask: why didn't you escape? Alas, they disregard the fact that there was nowhere to escape to in this world of hatred and evil.

We were sure that we were the last Jews in Europe, and sometimes we saw ourselves here, in the Ghetto, as the last Jews in the world, without any help, isolated and disconnected with nobody to lean on but our own selves, our own power, a few Jews, weak in body and broken in soul, after four years of torture and suppression, being subjected to starvation and humiliation under the Nazi boot, surrounded by hoards of well-armed murderers. In spite of all this the Jewish youth who survived decided to defend themselves.

Three women volunteering to obtain weapons

If we did not succeed in our plans of self-defense and ambushing the Germans as we had expected, it was because after every expulsion, a large part of the youth were taken to labor camps or to Auschwitz, amongst whom were quite a few of the leaders of the movement. These expulsions occurred too often, and we were unable to recover. Every time we had to start anew with organizing members, making plans and so on. Thus, preparations for defense had started before the last expulsion, and with the guidance of members of the kibbutz we started training in the use of arms. However it was impossible to obtain weapons in Zagłębie, and we had to send members to Warsaw, which involved taking risks and facing hardships such as obtaining forged passports with Christian names and illegal crossing of the borders.

Three young women volunteered to sacrifice themselves in this sacred mission: Edzia Pejsachson, Ina Gelbard and Renia Kukiela (now in Israel). Edzia was caught in the train-station in Czestochowa with guns and grenades in her possession. She was tortured cruelly but did not reveal her identity, nor to whom and for what purpose she was carrying these weapons. She was hanged in the local prison as a Pole. Ina Gelbard succeeded a few times in escaping the German hangmen, but she finally failed and was caught in Zawiercie and there she was shot. Renia was caught when she went to Warsaw for the second time, and after four months of tortures she managed, with the help of her brave sister, Sara, to escape from the political prison in Myslowice.

The members of the Zionist youth in Będzin too tried to obtain weapons at all costs. There is a well-known story about a group of 17 year old youngsters who decided to attack German apartments, after they had received information about the existence of weapons there, and take the weapon by force. In the first attack those who participated were Harry Blumenfrucht, Jakob Rozenberg (in Israel) and Jadzia Szpigelman dressed in "Hitlerjugend" uniform. The girl knocked at the door and the boys broke into Braun's, the German's apartment and robbed the guns which they found in the house. With this weapon they broke into another German's apartment, Minc, the following day. The boys Olek Gutman (in Israel), Max from the kibbutz, Blumenfrucht and Rozenberg tied up his wife and her servant and took the weapons which they found in the house. On their way back to the Ghetto, the notoriously murderous Nazi Scherter noticed Harry Blumenfrucht and asked him what he was doing in the Aryan part of the city without the Yellow Patch. Blumenfrucht drew out his revolver and prepared to shoot him but the Nazi, who was standing near him, managed to pull the revolver out of his hand and hold the boy tight. He was taken to prison where he was badly tortured, but he did not disclose anything, even after his parents were arrested and were promised to be released if their son told who his partners and helpers were. He died as a hero.

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