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PART II - War Years

"Now go and write it down"
in a book that it
may be before them
forever and ever. "
-Isaiah xxx, 8


ALTHOUGH THE system and the methods of extermination employed by the Nazi murderers were the same virtually everywhere, the slaughters in Chrzanow, as generally in the part of Poland that was incorporated into the German Reich, were carried out "legally, " according to "juridical formalities. " All of the barbarism practiced in Chrzanow was supposedly consistent with German jurisprudence. The police followed set regulations; there were security organs for personal protection, a local council, a German labor bureau, and so forth. Jews had access to the entire German bureaucracy. Jews paid regular taxes, and even received ration cards as did the non-Jewish population. The ghetto that was eventually set up wasn't surrounded by a fence or barbed wire-the exit was open.

Nevertheless, on the moral plane Chrzanow Jews suffered more than Jews in other parts of Poland and Lithuania prior to their destruction. This was because, living on the German border, for generations Chrzanow Jews had gotten along well with the Germans, done business with them, believed in their good character, and had a high opinion of German culture. As a result, they weren't afraid of the Germans. People knew that the Germans were foolish and hot-headed, but Chrzanow Jews were unable and unwilling to believe them capable of what they eventually did.

Thus the Jews of Chrzanow were filled with false optimism, and as a result only a very small number of them survived the terrible slaughter.

More than one reader will wonder: How could it be that so close to Auschwitz, no more than eighteen kilometers away, Chrzanow Jews didn't see what was going on? We've asked ourselves the same question-but not until it was already too late.

Throughout the entire occupation we believed that what might be happening elsewhere wouldn't come to Chrzanow. In our city, we thought, the Germans would behave in a more "cultured" manner. This view was justified to a certain extent, because Nazi rule in Chrzanow was carried out more or less according to the legalities. Harassment and even murder-every cruel action-was carried out according to a certain plan, with forethought, with more sympathy and "practical" explanations than in the rest of Poland and Galicia, where the mass slaughters were carried out in open brutality for the heavens to witness.

The tactics of the central office of the Judenrat in Sosnowiec contributed significantly to the air of optimism. It is impossible to believe that Merin, the director of the Judenrat, didn't know what "transfer" meant. The fact is that the "transfers" from Chrzanow were carried out after those in Sosnowiec and Bendzin. Instead of warning the Jews of the coming disaster, instead of shouting out, "Jews, run for your lives, you have nothing left to lose" - he lied to his own Jewish brothers. He thought up various stories in order to avoid telling them the whole truth, from which, in our opinion, many Jews would have drawn the correct conclusions.

This also implies that we shouldn't place too much blame on the members of the Chrzanow Judenrat who, during the ultimate extermination, danced like trained bears to the rhythm of the music from Sosnowiec, unlike Betsalel Cuker, who was killed earlier.

Even Sigmund Freud couldn't comprehend the psychology of these people, who held sway over Jewish life during the occupation. People who were experienced in communal affairs, people of deep understanding, carried out the German orders like well-trained dogs. Suffice it to recall just one sad fact. The last member of the Judenrat in Chrzanow, whom the Germans left behind to carry out the "technical" liquidation of the Judenrat as an institution after all the Jews of Chrzanow had been taken away to the gas chambers-this person, who watched his brothers and sisters being led away to the slaughter, followed the Germans' command two days after the final "transfer" and demanded that the few Jews who were still hiding in attics and basements come out of their hiding places and report voluntarily to the police. He himself personally went through all the empty Jewish houses, shouting that the Jews should come out of their bunkers, that nothing would be done to them. And the few Jews who still believed him this time fell into the bestial hands of the Germans.

If Jews had known the naked truth, the terrible reality, many individuals, especially the younger ones, would have been able to save themselves from destruction. The leaders in Sosnowiec convinced themselves as well as others that if everyone was well behaved and anticipated the will of the Germans, then there was hope that some might survive. We don't want to state that this was done intentionally, in hopes of saving their own lives. More likely it was their naive belief in the decency of the Germans, and their lack of ability to behave decisively and responsibly. Compared with other Jewish cities, the slaughter in Chrzanow took longer, was done more carefully, and thus was perhaps even more gruesome than in other locations.

In this second section I have attempted a chronological depiction of the slaughter of the Jews of Chrzanow. I have tried to use simple words to draw a picture for the generation to come, so that they will know of the death of a city full of Jews who were honest and hardworking, who still believed in humane justice until they were killed.

Before the War

THE OUTBREAK of the war did not come as a surprise to Chrzanow. As early as August 1939, people were growing anxious about what was to come. The proximity of the German border and the concentration of Polish military personnel in Upper Silesia inspired the population to do some hard thinking. Starting with the signing of the German-Soviet pact on August 23, the situation deteriorated steadily, until daily life was thoroughly infused with a sense of panic. Located on the main highway between Katowice and Cracow, Chrzanow witnessed the evacuation of the civilian population who lived near the German border. Long caravans of automobiles, jammed with people and belongings, made their way through the city. They continued ever onward into the countryside in order to be as far as possible from the enemy. For eight days the traffic continued without a moment's pause. Economic life was almost entirely disrupted; people stopped believing in tomorrow.

The wealthier Jews of Chrzanow deposited their valuables with relatives and acquaintances. Everyone who could do so sent his wife and children to a safer region. The situation of the less prosperous merchants and storekeepers, small industrialists and artisans, grew catastrophic in the days just before the war, because everyone was hoarding cash. People simply stopped buying. Everyone wanted to secure as much hard cash as possible in case it came to war.

At home people were busy blackening their windows. The Poles were pessimistic-they were quite sure that war was coming. Jewish opinion was divided, with some not believing that war would break out. It is worth mentioning that on the evening before war was declared, Poles belonging to the ruling party called a public meeting, which featured slogans about the struggle against Jewish business.

At six in the morning on Friday, September 1, 1939, even before we knew that the war had broken out, German fliers bombarded the Trzebinia railroad station. There the first victims fell. Panic grew by the minute. It was announced on the radio that Cracow was being bombarded. Railroad traffic stopped almost completely, as did the traffic between Katowice and Cracow. That afternoon and an day Saturday, thousands of refugees, including women and children, streamed through the city, some in wagons but the majority on foot. Most were Poles from Upper Silesia. The realization that even the Poles were afraid of the Nazi troops had a depressing effect on the Jews of Chrzanow.

On Sunday, September 3, the Jews began to flee in panic. Some had carts, some had wheelbarrows, some had bicycles. But most of them left on foot on Sunday evening and Monday morning, going wherever their feet carried them, abandoning their homes and all their possessions.


Around midday on Monday, September 4, 1939, the Nazi hordes entered the city. Their first task was to grab people off the streets-Poles as wen as Jews-and incarcerate them. The Jews were kept in the synagogue, the Poles in church. No one understood the purpose of this action; no one was harmed in any way, and the next day everyone was released. Jews, instinctively sensing what they could expect from the "Master Race," hid at home, afraid to appear on the street.

Food shortages began during the first days. Willy-nilly, one had to go outside to look for food, in order to avoid starving. At the bakery, everyone had to stand in line to receive enough bread to keep body and soul together. This was our first great disillusionment. We had made a sober reckoning of what we could expect from the Germans, and were psychologically ready for both moral and physical torture. But soon we received the first blow from none other than our "dear" erstwhile neighbors, the Poles. They were the ones who pointed out the Jews to the German soldiers, who couldn't tell the difference between Jews and Poles. They didn't know any German, but with sign language they pointed out: "Jude!"


The first Jewish victim of the Germans in Chrzanow was Reb Chaim Reiber's sonin-law, a young man who was a bit hard of hearing. He was crossing the street; the Germans wanted to detain him, and when he didn't hear them shout "Halt!" they shot him on the spot. Despite their fear of going outside, the few Jews who remained in the town, led by a member of the burial society named Wolf Schif (m/b/a/) attended to the corpse and quietly buried the young man at the cemetery. The German soldiers coldbloodedly assembled 15 Jews and lined them up against a wall to shoot them. By some miracle, a higher officer came to investigate the situation, and the Jews were released.


On Friday, September 8, the Jews of Chrzanow who had escaped to other regions because they believed that the Polish army would put up some resistance, began to stream back into the city. Actually the Germans were already at the gates of Warsaw. When the Germans arrived in Trzebinia, a town five kilometers from Chrzanow, they seized these returning Jews en masse and shot them without mercy, old and young, throwing them still alive into a pit next to the monastery not far from the Trzebinia railroad station. These mass slaughters continued on Sunday, September 10 and Monday, September 11. For the record it should be specified that this brutality was carried out not by the S.S. Gestapo or the S.A., but by regular German army troops-in fact, a unit of the German work brigades under the army's command, men of the working classes who used to shout slogans like "Freedom," "Brotherhood," and "Unity." It also should be noted that members of the Mickiewicz nation gladly pointed out those who were Jewish.

By some miracle, a single Chrzanow Jew named Simcha Shonberg survived. Today he is in Belgium. After he was shot, he managed to make his way out from among the slaughtered. The following is cited directly from his testimony:

In 1939, on Saturday night, the second day of the war, my wife, my son and I escaped to Cracow. On Wednesday, September 6 the Germans entered Cracow. After continuing to wander until Sunday, I decided to return to Chrzanow, leaving my wife and son in Cracow, so that I would have a chance to see what was happening in our town first. As we left Cracow we began to sense that things were not simple with these brutes. Nevertheless my brother Motl and I decided to continue. Another acquaintance was with us. When we arrived at Bronovice, two kilometers past Cracow, we were ordered to halt with wild shouts, "Bandits, where are you going? You're going to croak here!" Fortunately a cavalry regiment approached from a narrow side street, and when the German soldier saw them, he retreated for the time being. In our hearts we thanked the Lord for this miracle.

Continuing two kilometers further on, we met Meir Rosenbaum and his entire family from out of town, carrying all their possessions and riding on a cart driven by a Polish coachman. We were happy to meet a few friends from Chrzanow, so that we could ride home together.

We were stopped again and taken to a compound near a church to do some work, but when we saw that there was no real work for us to do, we managed to get ourselves free for a small bribe and we left. We rode a good way further, and then we saw the first victim from Chrzanow, the well-known butcher Reb Kalmen Siegel, lying shot in a gutter.

We decided to get home as soon as possible, because the situation seemed to become too risky. At four in the afternoon we arrived at Kszeszowice. There I met my friend Chaim Hirshtal, He said to me: "'Listen to me Simcha, don't go any further! Let's spend the night in Kszeszowice, and then well see what we have to do next." But all I wanted was to get home. I told him that there wasn't a minute to spare, that evening was coming and we had to hurry. And we proceeded. I said goodbye to Chaim Hirshtal and we rode on almost until the curfew at 7:00 p.m. Thus we arrived at Trzebinia. When we arrived at the marketplace in Trzebinia, we were approached by several German soldiers. Meir Rosenbaum was certain that everything would go smoothly. One of them asked us, "Are you Jewish?" At first he wanted to deny it, but apparently the soldier realized that he was a Jew. He shouted, "What? Aren't you a Jew?"

Meir became afraid, and naturally said immediately, "Yes!"

"Then you're coming along with us," the soldier ordered him.

My brother and I immediately got down from the wagon. Rosenbaum's wife, son and daughter also came with us, and we went into an old house and shut the door. The last one to come into the house said he had seen the Germans order Gentile women to get into the cart and drive away with Meir. We were under the impression that Meir had gotten home. We envied him. (Author's note: Meir Rosenbaum and his brother were murdered in another location.)

We sat quietly in that house all night. Then a Jewish stranger took a close look at my brother Motl and said, "Motl, don't you recognize me? We studied together in the study house in Chrzanow!" He was a Jew from Trzebinia. His face was covered with tears.

"What happened to you?" Motl asked him. "Don't ask, my friend! I have to say kaddish. I had one son, who studied with the rabbi of Trzebinia. When we fled we got to Kalisz. During the fire in the synagogue he wanted to rescue the Torah scrolls. When the German murderers saw that, they refused to let him leave the burning synagogue, and my child was burned to death together with the Torah scrolls. Now we've decided that we can't wait another minute. As soon as God gives us daylight we've got to get out of here."

Slowly the sun rose. At 6:00 a.m. we decided that Meir Rosenbaum's daughter should go out into the street to see how things looked. The girl immediately came back, saying that it was quiet in the street. We slowly began to leave the house and continued as far as the main street, which leads to the railroad station. At that moment we noticed in the distance several soldiers washing up in a courtyard. We crossed to the other side of the street. When we got close to the soldiers, we heard a shout: "Come over here!" We were taken to the local elementary school. There we saw the Jew Zagorski from Chrzanow. He warned us that the situation was grim. Mrs. Zimnovodsky (Rosenbaum's sister) was also with us. For some reason she decided to greet the killers in German. For that, she received a hard slap. She could barely get up. We were ordered to strip. All of the men and women were lined up with their faces to the wall, "hands up." They took everything we had in our possession. They cut Mrs. Zimnovodsky's brassiere open with a knife and took her money. After a short time we heard them bringing some more people in.

The shouts could reach the heart of Heaven. The house was full of people. The tables were loaded with thousands of zlotys in cash. The soldiers' pockets were full. We were taken out of the house and taken to a storeroom, where we had to kneel for more than two hours. Then we were ordered to get up, after which they released us.

It wasn't until we got out onto the street that we saw several people from Chrzanow, including Avrom Korngold, Yitskhok Grubner, Klapholz and several others. Everyone wondered: "What are you doing here?" Thus all of us, a group of thirteen, decided to get away from this Hell and go home. When we got to the bridge next to Count Michtselski's brick factory, an automobile drove by. We didn't pay any attention to it, but just then we heard, "Halt!" Several of the villains stood near us. "Do you have any weapons?" We told them that everything had been taken away from us, and we never had any Weapons. Suddenly some of them said, "Are you the chosen people?"

Klapholz replied, "No!"

The German said, "What? No?"

We were forced to shout three times, "Yes." Then he ordered us to shout three times, "We are bandits, we are thieves."

When that was finished, he said to us, "Hands up! You'll get it from us yet, you bandits." They herded us back into the brick factory. There we were confined to the cellar.

A short time later we were once again taken out of the cellar into the courtyard and counted. A soldier asked another how many of us there were, and the second replied that we were thirteen. "So! Yesterday these bandits attacked our soldiers with razors. Now we have to give them a shave! " At that moment another soldier came out, carrying a long pistol. The officer asked him, "Did you bring along enough cartridges?" The answer was affirmative. We were taken out onto the football field in Trzebinia and as the gate was opened, we saw some twenty people lying shot in various positions. We were herded further. The soldier grabbed the first four by their collars, threw them onto the sand and shot them. Then he ordered the nine remaining men to lie down on the ground with our faces down. At that moment we began to shout, " Shema Yisroel!" At that we heard wild laughter: "Let Jehovah help you!" Then he aimed at our hearts and shot each one in turn. I was the last. After I was shot, I was still conscious. I lifted my head to see whether the murderers were still there. When I saw that they had gone, I gathered my strength, made my way to the fence and threw myself over to the other side. My friend Yitschok Grubner also made it over the fence. With my last ounce of strength, I made my way to the home of a Jew in Trzebinia. From there my wife brought me home wounded. I lay in bed for six months.

This was on the twenty-seventh of Elul, September 11, 1939, at 10:00 a.m. The entire football field was covered with military personnel who wanted to attend the execution of a few dozen innocent Jews.

The exact number of victims who fell during that gruesome slaughter is difficult to ascertain. The Jews of Chrzanow alone, who were properly buried some time later with considerable difficulty, numbered more than thirty. The Judenrat at the time did everything it could to exhume the martyrs and bring them to Chrzanow. Jewish victims from other towns were buried at the Jewish cemetery in Trzebinia.

Gruesome scenes took place while the martyrs were being exhumed. The rabbinical court of Chrzanow required the wives to identify their murdered husbands, in order to avoid questions about their right to remarry later. The scene later on at the
common grave at the Chrzanow cemetery was even worse. The heavens must have been wetted by the weeping and wailing of the parents, widows, and orphans. Even the few Poles who were present wept.


When the war in Poland was over and the mass slaughters by various military units had slowed down, the German military command in Chrzanow began taking hostages. These respected members of the civilian population, both Jews and Poles, were interned in the county courthouse. At first this appeared to be a temporary measure, but this curse began to develop into a specific system. Naturally, the most prominent citizens remaining in town were the ones selected. At first the Germans held them for a certain time, then let them go free and took others to replace them. Of course, the Jews who were in danger of being taken hostage hid or fled, but the German sadists knew what to do about this as well. They simply stopped looking for new hostages, demanding that the hostages themselves provide substitutes in order to be released. Thus they tried to force Jews to betray others. But this gambit didn't get very far, because the Jews who were interned bore their fate with honor.


Until this very day it is not known whether a genuine act of sabotage took place, as the Germans insisted, or an evil trick was played to frighten the populace. In any case, it was said that a telephone line had been cut, and the Germans regarded this as an act of sabotage. An officer went to the hostages, and smilingly announced that two of them were to be shot. According to German justice, he took the youngest of the hostages, one Jew and one Pole. The director of the health fund, Tshepla, was the Pole, and as for the Jew, the misfortune fell on twenty-year-old Avigdor Klagsbald, who had been taken instead of his father, Reb Yitschok Klagsbald. The victim was an active Zionist and a member of the bris hatsahar. The first victim of German "justice" went to his execution like a hero, refusing to have his eyes covered when he was shot. Even the murderous officer who carried out the execution was moved by the proud bearing of Avigdor Klagsbald, and ordered that Klagsbald be given the finest and most prominent grave at the Chrzanow Jewish cemetery.


The German system of not permitting the Jews to catch their breath made them expert at finding new forms of torment. Not one day went by without new trouble. The fact that regular taxes were levied only from Jews hurt us morally. From a practical standpoint, it was difficult to gather the sums demanded by the military commander of the city, because the rich men and the better-off citizens hadn't returned to town yet. Jewish representatives were literally forced to go around town with a collection bag, convinced that in this case, truly "charity saves from death."


The trouble here wasn't with the work itself -the fear of forced labor arose from the insulting behavior, bloodletting, and simple brutality with which the Germans tortured their victims. At the beginning of the German rule in Chrzanow, the dirty work of capturing Jews at home and in the street was carried out by the Polish civilian militia authorized by the Germans. At first they took to this "holy task" enthusiastically, but after several days, they turned out to be too weak for the job. Then the German soldiers took over, and Jews were taken in the streets and in their houses. No one was spared-neither old nor young, the sick nor the weak.

Yom Kippur in the year 1939 is etched in my memory. Although no explicit order forbade us to pray in the synagogue and the study house, the Jews of Chrzanow instinctively avoided doing so. They did not want to risk drawing the attention of the mad beasts and giving them an excuse for more brutality. Thus Chrzanow Jews gathered quietly on Yom Kippur in the smaller Chasidic synagogues or in private homes, broken-heartedly pouring out their hearts to God, who had so gruesomely punished them. Suddenly the familiar voices of German soldiers were heard: "Jews, to work!" In the middle of the morning service Jews were taken away wearing their kitls and taleysim, some to dean the streets and others to clean the toilets in the barracks of the Master Race. The Germans knew very well that it was a holy day for Jews and that the Jews were fasting. After several hours of hard labor and profound humiliation, the Jews were sent home, and finished the morning service as if nothing had happened. Even Jewish humor wasn't lacking: the wen-known Torah reader Reb Shloyme Proper m/b/a/, who had worked together with the rest of the Jews, used a common German phrase when he was about to resume leading the service: "Weitermachen!"


As soon as the Germans entered the city, we immediately sensed that private property and family tranquility meant nothing to them. The myth of German discipline and order turned out to be a simple lie as far as the German soldiers were concerned. They frequently broke into private homes by day or at night. German regular army officers and enlisted men (at first there was no S.S., S.A. or Gestapo) entered stores, looked over the merchandise, asked the price out of sheer habit, ordered that whatever they had selected be packed, and left behind a small coin in payment. As they were leaving, the more decent among them gave the excuse that their colleagues were taking even more merchandise from other stores, paying nothing, and meanwhile beating the merchants. They weren't lying.

Gruesome deeds were committed in the dark of night. Two such incidents are worth mentioning.

In the middle of the night a group of German soldiers went to the home of a wellknown, established Jewish family (whose name, for understandable reasons, we will not mention). No one was at home except for the mother and her grown daughter, a young, intelligent girl. One of the soldiers brought in a young man with whom the girl was acquainted, who happened to five in the same house. With a pistol in his hand, the soldier forced the young man to rape the girl in the presence of the soldiers and the girl's mother. He beat the young man murderously during the horrid orgy.

One Friday night German soldiers entered the home of the Rosner family. One of them climbed up onto the table, where the Sabbath candles were still burning, defecated and threw his feces at the sick woman lying in bed.

Such incidents were believed to be isolated acts of riotous, degenerate soldiers. But on the night of October 6, the entire city was suddenly surrounded by soldiers. Machine guns were placed in all the streets, and mass inspections of Jews began. The soldiers used iron bars and axes to open the locked stores, whose owners had not yet returned. Many stores were emptied, and the merchandise was taken away. Houses were searched for money and valuables. The barbarians weren't ashamed to take literally the last bit of food from the very poorest. The writer of these lines observed Jews from whom "provisions" had been requisitioned being forced to take their last few paper sacks of food onto the street. The Germans later took these away.

The house inspections continued all night, and until the middle of the next day. The Germans gained little, however. No one was arrested. As often happens in such situations, the Germans didn't want their actions to come to the attention of the higher authorities, in case they would have to surrender the valuables.

This first inspection is noteworthy, because it was the first instance of organized robbery of the peaceful Jewish population. It should have induced us to take stock of our true situation. But there were still quite a few optimists in Chrzanow, who claimed that the Germans weren't as bad as they were made out to be.

The First Judenrat

WRITING THIS chapter about the first Judenrat in Chrzanow arouses mixed feelings. Feelings of shame and anger overcome anyone who recalls this institution, which could only have been invented by the Devil himself. At first people thought the Judenrat would be similar to the Jewish community council, with philanthropic aims- a juridical corporation that would represent the Jewish population in dealings with the German authorities, and so forth. Superficially that was the case, but in practice the Judenrat was merely a cover for the Germans' dark plans, enabling them to complete the extermination of the Jews more easily and quietly. The first Judenrat consisted of the following individuals: Yosef Umlauf, chair; Weber (Fasek) as deputy; (Bishte) David Wachsberg; Levi Krauskopf and Yosef Shmuel Shonhertz. This first Judenrat was really controlled by Fasek Weber and Bishte Wachsberg, two characters without any sense of Jewish responsibility whatsoever. They had only their own interests in mind when they forced their way into control, because no one invited or asked them to serve. These two immediately drew the wrath of the entire Jewish population by their many deceitful actions, even the public mention of which is embarrassing.

Yosef Umlauf, as chairman of the Judenrat, was unqualified for the position, despite his good intentions. He failed completely to comprehend the general situation. As an assimilated Jew he was alienated from the Jewish masses; he had no experience as a communal activist; and because he was already seventy years old, he was like a mannequin in Fasek Weber's hands, dancing to his tune. Shonhertz and Krauskopf, although both responsible and well-intentioned, were also too weak to resist the control of Weber and Wachsberg, fearing their close connections with the German police.

And to this Judenrat the fate of the 10,000 Jews of Chrzanow was entrusted. The main task of the Judenrat, according to the German directions, was to see to it that the Germans were comfortable. The gymnasium and children's home, which had been transformed into barracks, had to be cleaned by Jews every day. Jews had to polish the boots of any German who demanded it. The Jildenrat had to come up with whatever number of workers the Germans demanded. And they demanded countless numbers. Quite often the Germans- civilian officials, no less-stopped Jews in the street and made them perform personal services.

The Judenrat also had other tasks to attend to, such as providing the police with various items that were in short supply, such as coffee, tea, and chocolate. Of course, such transactions created the opportunity for corruption within the Judenrat itself.

On account of the chaotic work and the incompetence of the first Judenrat, real authority lay with the police and the various predatory hustlers who crowded around, all sorts of "do-gooders" who, thanks to their acquaintance with one or another German, were able to pay money to have various sins expunged-sins like being caught with a beard, praying with a congregation, and the like. The corruption of the Germans only increased with the arrival of the police chief Schindler, of whom more will be said later. This ugly character liked money, jewelry, and women, and the Judenrat became a tool in his hands, assisting him in his criminal excesses.

There were a few positive moments in the activity of the first Judenrat. Thanks to its intervention, at the end of November 1939 it was possible to provide a proper cemetery burial for the first martyrs from Trzebinia, who had been placed in a mass grave there. The free kitchen in the Anshei Chayil synagogue, created by the first Judenrat, was important because it created the possibility for a rather large number of families to get a bit of warm food once a day. The Judenrat acquired the food legally, and under the direction of the well-known Chrzanow WIZO activist Mrs. Korngold, the free kitchen served the needs of the time. Individual Jews were forbidden to buy the same food.


At the end of December 1939 the borders of the Polish "General Government" were fixed, with Cracow as the capital. Chrzanow was incorporated into the Reich, and the border ran past the village of Dulova, some six kilometers from Trzebinia. The economic situation, which was already bad, received an even greater blow, because Chrzanow had always been closely tied to Cracow. Now Cracow was hermetically separated from Chrzanow. In order to cross the border and go to Cracow, one needed a passport. Such documents could easily be had for money- or more accurately, for a bribe. Corruption was the norm among the German officials. Jews and Poles went back and forth. Both sides dealt in merchandise and provisions, which was, of course, forbidden. During the inspection in Trzebinia, Jews were harassed more intensely, because the Germans knew that they'd get payoffs from the Jews if they caught them with contraband.

A good proportion of the Jews of Chrzanow, left without any livelihood, set off for Cracow to try to make a living. This "exodus" took on a mass character. Frightful shakedowns took place in Trzebinia. This influenced some of the young people to head individually or in groups toward the Soviet border, where they risked their lives crossing the river San. Thanks to this initiative, some of Chrzanow's young people managed to escape death.


In comparison with the later years, 1940 was the most normal year of life under occupation in Chrzanow. The first blows were over. People had already gotten used to the new restrictions and regulations that were imposed on us daily. We were used to expecting "news"' when we got up every day. The most painful thing, which we regarded at the beginning of 1940 as a cruel decree, was that we had to wear white armbands with blue Stars of David. If, until that point, Jews had somehow been able to disguise themselves as Aryans while on the trains, doing business, or even just walking around freely-all that stopped. This regulation ensured that the anti-Jewish laws would be totally effective, and it eased the task of quickly finding and seizing Jews.

In general, the situation stabilized to a certain degree. Random seizure for forced labor lessened. The Judenrat created its own labor office, regulating somewhat the work done for the Germans. An obligatory work schedule for every Jew was introduced. Each Jew either had to devote one day a week to slave labor, or else pay a certain sum into the account of the Judenrat to hire a substitute.

The stores reopened gradually, as they received, paying dearly, renewed licenses from the German authorities. With great difficulty they managed to get merchandise. The situation of the Jewish workers was very difficult, because nearly all of the Jewish industrial enterprises had been closed, and the machinery confiscated. Private artisans had no work because no one thought of buying new things. In the beginning people managed to find a few pennies to save here and there. Later they began selling off anything they could. Some sold jewelry or other valuables, and some sold clothing, as long as they could stay alive. People lived with confidence that they would survive the hard times.

Chrzanow, which had largely emptied out on the first night of the war, began to fill again. The Jews who had left in order to escape the murderers returned home, because no other place had been better. On the contrary, the fact that Chrzanow was included in the Reich attracted many naive people, who believed that the regime would be more tolerant there.


In March 1940 a new Judenrat was appointed in Chrzanow. The initiative came, not from the local German authorities, but from the central Judenrat in Sosnowiec, whose main figure was the chairman, Moniek Merin. Those unfamiliar with the situation will need a bit of explanation about the scope of the Judenrat. Throughout Europe this institution's purpose was to help ease the task of murdering Jews. All of the communities included in the Reich were concentrated under the central directorate, which was set up in Sosnowiec because it had the largest Jewish community. This central directorate took in the Judenraten in Bendzin, Dambrowa, Gurnicza, Huta, Zawiercie, Chrzanow, Oswiecim, Jaworzno, Trzebinia and other smaller communities. The directorate was under the personal supervision of the chief of the Katowice Gestapo, Dr. Dreier, whose fine words about the favors he was going to do for the Jews considerably influenced the directorate and its chairman Merin.

This rat Merin rose to prominence by chance. When the Germans entered Sosnowiec, they herded the Jews together into one place. After various chicaneries and torments they summoned from the crowd someone who belonged to the community council-a young man who had indeed belonged to the community council in Sosnowiec before the war, and who had the courage to say, "I was." This young man became the infamous "leader" Moniek Merin, who was instrumental in sealing the fate of the Jews in the cities and towns that were included in the Reich. With his brave response Moniek Merin drew the Germans' favor, and they named him the founder and director of the central Judenrat. Moniek Merin was granted unlimited powers by the central office of the Gestapo in Katowice, and the Germans made the right choice. Merin employed his organizational talents for four years (ending with his own liquidation in the gas chamber at Auschwitz), effectively directing the annihilation of over 100,000 Jews within the Reich.

Merin, with his sensitivity to organizational function, immediately realized the competence of the first Judenrat in Chrzanow and reorganized it, coopting new members from among the bourgeoisie. Despite his faults, Merin understood that the Judenrat had to be staffed with responsible people; the hustlers and underworld characters had to be gotten rid of.

The new Judenrat, which had just been appointed in Chrzanow, consisted of Fasek Weber and David Bishte, with whom Merin himself didn't want to come into conflict, because of their intimate acquaintance with the police. Yosef Shmuel Shonhertz remained from the previous council, because of the honesty and goodwill he had displayed in his earlier work. They were joined by Betsalel Cuker, Moyshe Nagoshiner, Kalmen Teichler, Zelig Grajower, Shmuel Yosef Weiss, and Mendl Nussbaum.

With the installation of the new Judenrat, life became somewhat easier in the city. The new members' position in the Jewish community and experience in communal affairs guaranteed a degree of security against the neglect indulged in by the former bosses, Fasek Weber and David Bishte. The latter, pursuing their own self-interest, slavishly and blindly carried out the will of the Germans, rather than using deception to ease the situation of their own brothers.

The new Judenrat unquestionably revolved around its chairman, Betsalel Cuker. A proud and nationally conscious Jew with particular talents in communal affairs, he was honest, just, intelligent, and strict, but also had a warm Jewish heart. In a short time he attracted the attention of the Jewish population, introducing into the Judenrat exemplary order regarding every aspect of communal life. First, the labor bureau was set up, headed by Meir Goldberg, who died during the war. An accurate catalogue of all the able-bodied Jews was developed, and the labor bureau's job was to distribute the assigned tasks equitably among the Jews. The wild scenes in which Jews were stopped in the street and taken off to work stopped. Rational distribution of the work had to satisfy everyone, because before it had been even worse.

The economic bureau, under the direction of Mendl Nussbaum, was assigned the task of distributing provisions to specially designated Jewish stores according to a ration system. The provisions were sent via the central economic bureau in Sosnowiec.

The creation of the charity bureau, under the direction of Shmuel Yosef Weiss, was also a welcome step. This bureau extended its activities from day to day, taking on new clients. During the course of the war, the financial structure of Chrzanow Jewry changed entirely. The same Jews who had been givers of charity until the war, now had to come to the charity bureau of the Judenrat, and it must be admitted that S.Y. Weiss- incidentally the only survivor from that Judenrat- carried out his work with tact and deep understanding.

Hard and thankless tasks fell to the housing bureau. Living conditions in Chrzanow hadn't been especially good even before the war. During the war the invading army, police, and considerable civilian staff forcefully seized the better living places in the city. The Plantn and the surrounding area became Judenrein (clean of Jews), and its residents had to be moved into other dwellings. This situation became even more difficult in the summer of 1940, when a large number of the Jews remaining in Upper Silesia were transferred to Chrzanow. The Judenrat's housing bureau had to find shelter for the first of the refugees.

The mass psychology that ruled in 1940 has to be understood. Very few could imagine that the Germans would slaughter us. It wasn't easy for people to give up the home that had been theirs for so many years, so the housing bureau had to work tactfully but strictly. It had to be dictatorial but just, in order to find dwellings for the unfortunates who had lost theirs. Naturally, there were frequent tensions among the various parties and the Judenrat. The director of this bureau, Moyshe Nagoshiner, needed a great deal of knowledge and competence in order to resolve these conflicts.

The Judenrat had various additional functions. It had dealings with the police and the civilian authorities; it provided furniture, linens, and clothing for the Germans and their families, who came like hyenas from every corner of Germany, with the one goal of robbing Jewish goods. Not only that-the Judenrat even had to supply them with provisions for a feast, on demand.

It is interesting to note that at the Judenrat there was a cupboard filled with all kinds of good things, such as cognac, wine, liquor, chocolate, coffee, and other very rare items. All this was prepared to be given to the Germans when they demanded it. Most of the Germans who came were police, or as they were nicknamed, Shupo's. Their commander was the always laughing, never satisfied, Oberleutenant Schindler. With his smooth talk and pretended philo-Semitism, he led the annihilation of the 12,000 Jews who were in Chrzanow during the war.

The Judenrat had colossal expenses, which they either did not want or were forbidden to record officially. In addition to the charitable activities such as the free kitchen and the "Anshei Chayil" support for needy heads of households, and salaries for a considerable staff of officials and Jewish policemen, they needed large sums of money to pay off the Germans. Although the oppressive regulations couldn't be avoided entirely through bribery, thanks to the corruption of the Germans, it was possible to make life a bit easier, a bit more bearable-but even this small goal was not always reached.

In order to raise the necessary money, appropriate sums were requisitioned from those Jews who still had means. The Judenrat also had some income from its interventions with the authorities on behalf of Jews with money. Money had to be raised by any means possible, regardless of whether it was morally questionable. Naturally, there could be no supervision of the expenditures. This in turn gave rise to rumors that the members of the Judenrat were getting rich at the cost of their brothers' suffering. At the time it was impossible to determine whether this was true, and today it is utterly impossible.

The first major task faced by the new Judenrat, as we have already mentioned, was to find apartments for the Jews who had just arrived from Upper Silesia, or more accurately, the German Jews. These German Jews for the most part had little connection with living and breathing Judaism. The members of the Judenrat had to exercise a great deal of intelligence and tact to get along with these Germanized Jews. They had to be given the chance to live in a reasonably clean and comfortable situation; otherwise there was a danger that they would turn to the authorities and diminish the independent role the Judenrat had shaped for itself. Although their living conditions were better than those of the native Jews, later on many of these German Jews caused trouble.. Unfortunately among them there were traitors who ruined many families.

After the random killings of the Jews from Upper Silesia in the beginning of the summer of 1940, the situation became generally bearable. While the daily problems didn't stop, they were manifested in minor incidents, which we had simply gotten used to. Pious Jews, who refused to remove the "image of God," their beards and peyes, for all the riches in the world, had to withstand great trials. These Jews were sentenced to remain shut up at home, summer and winter. Even when they were at home countless times a day they were seized with terror, hearing a German voice or the sound of German boots on the stairs or in the hallway. How sorrowful and terrifying it was every time a German caught a Jew with a beard!

Hunting beards-Jewish ones only, of course-became a kind of sport for the German police and their commander Schindler. This sport was connected to a more useful occupation-fundraising. If the possessor of the beard was wealthy, he could buy it off with money, or with bonen kafee. The latter could buy off even their divine Fuehrer.

Recalling some other minor incidents that took place during that "quiet" period demonstrates the base and shameless methods used by German propagandists. There was an idiot in Chrzanow, a dirty brute, who had been born a Pole, but spoke Yiddish. He pretended to be a convert named Avrom Ger. The Germans took this poor soul and shot him, claiming that because he was so dirty, he could cause an epidemic. Before they shot him they took his picture, which appeared a short time later in the Nurenburg newspaper Der Stunner over a caption reading, "The richest Jew in Chrzanow, and so dirty!"

Another time the Germans captured the well-known Chrzanow baker and scholar Reb Mordechai Shaynovits m/b/a. A small, thin Jew with a sad face, he too was photographed, and the picture was published in Der Sturmer with the following caption: "This Jew was captured with weapons, fighting against the German army. . .

After the German victories in France, the level of German terror against Jews seemed for a short while to diminish. The police looked the other way when Jews committed such crimes as praying in public or going for walks outside of the city. Somehow the Germans seemed to be coated with honey at the end of summer 1940. The Jews' terror of them diminished somewhat; people dared to stick their heads outside of their houses, dress a bit better, and in general breathe more freely. Naturally, this encouraged Jews to gather for prayer in the smaller synagogues. At that time, the following curious episode took place.

The well-known sadist and police chief Gurtz, whose gruesome, degenerate methods of torture caused even the Poles to fear him like the plague, happened one morning to enter the Mizrachi synagogue, which was not far from the police headquarters. Seeing several Jews there, he asked them what the purpose of their gathering was. The congregants, trembling with fear, explained that they wanted to pray, but since they were short of two or three Jews for the minyan, they had to wait until somebody else came. Their tormentor didn't say a word, but when he went out into the street he stopped several Jews who were passing by, took them into the Mizrachi synagogue and said to the Jews who were waiting there: "'Here are the rest of the Jews you needed. Now you can continue."

During that "happy" time the Judenrat managed to get the authorities to agree to the reopening of the Jewish bathhouse, the only bathhouse in the city available to the Jewish population. It must be remembered that given the living conditions at that time, and the general hygienic situation of the Jewish population, the opening of the bathhouse was like a miracle.

Even more impressive, in 1940, thanks to the good relations between the Judenrat and the German police, permission was received for public prayer on the High Holidays. These services were held in the Mizrachi Synagogue no less, under the very eyes of the German police. Even better, the police came to the Mussaf service, and listened to the beautiful cantorial voice of the young student of Reb Hirsh Leyb, Simcha Shonberg, who, as previously mentioned, had miraculously managed to escape from their hands in Trzebinia.


In October of the same year, right on Simchas Torah, the news appeared like a black cloud: Merin, the director of the central Judenrat in Sosnowiec, arrived with a directive called "labor details, " which involved internment in specially designated Jewish work camps. Every Jew was seized by indescribable terror. We had some idea by then of what it meant to work for Germans, but before, it had at least been possible to go back home after a day at work. Now we would have to part with our nearest and dearest, and go straight to the Devil's lair.

As a rule the Germans carried out all of their actions in a panicky rush. They were always successful, because the efficient apparatus of the Judenrat was at their disposal, ready to carry out their orders precisely. Today we can assert with conviction that the Judenrat buried their own brothers.

At the beginning the members of. the Judenrat didn't understand the ugly role the Germans had devised for them. With rare exceptions, they believed the scurrilous reassurances of the Germans, who said that going to the work camps would improve the situation of the Jews, and so forth. There is no other way to explain the enthusiasm and energy displayed by Merin at the time of the labor details.

Apparently Merin didn't entirely trust the Chrzanow Judenrat to carry out the action. He deigned to come personally to supervise the operation. He delivered a speech about the importance of work to the assembled Jews of Chrzanow. "No longer will the Germans be able to say that we are lazy parasites." Even better, he promised roast pigeons in the German labor camps, and he promised that after a few months people would be able to come home. In a word, he promised that things would be just fine.

The first labor detail consisted of the blossoming youth of the city, as well as married men who couldn't prove that they were in some way employed- altogether, 300 young men at the prime of their lives. These young people were assembled in the elementary school of Mickiewicz Street. Then they were transported by brutal Vermacht men in a special train, to the Jewish work camps of Sakrau and Gogolin in Upper Silesia. Signs were hung on the railroad cars, reading "Voluntary Workers for Germany."

The first news from the camps was very bad. The work was hard (the Jews were building the "Reichsautobahn") and the treatment was brutal. The most primitive hygienic accommodations were lacking in the camp, and as a result filth and lice consumed the young people. This led the chairman of the Chrzanow Judenrat, Betsalel Cuker, to investigate the actual conditions in the camp. With his unrelenting energy, together with Moyshe Nagoshiner, he managed to visit the above-mentioned camps. The young men from Chrzanow greeted them with bitterness and outcries of enraged hostility at their fate. He returned heartbroken, but unfortunately he could not do anything substantial to help them

The labor details demand further discussion. It is true that a large number of the young people of Chrzanow gave up their souls in torture and pain at the work camps. But it should also be noted that the majority of the surviving Jews of Chrzanow which is a large percentage, relative to other Jewish cities-remained alive on account of the camps. I can attest that if they had not been in the camps, they would doubtless have died in the gas chambers in nearby Auschwitz. Other means of survival-such as joining the partisans, hiding in the forests or bunkers, or acquiring Aryan papers -were very seldom used here. Merin's claims. that the camps would save us from utter destruction contained a small kernel of truth. The question is only whether Merin himself really believed his own prophecy.

In the belief that it would thus be possible to avoid further deportations to the work camps, there began intensive agitation in favor of the creation of a sort of work camp in Chrzanow itself. Individual Jews began to secure places to work, some fictitious and some genuine. With the help of the Judenrat, a camp was established in Gromiec, devoted to drainage work near the vistula. In Libiaz itself, Chrzanow Jews came to work at the heaviest labor in the local quarries. In Pogorzec near Chrzanow, several dozen Jews were employed building the highway. Later on several dozen Jews were hired at the rubber factory in Trzebinia, which the Germans permitted to continue functioning. There was no lack of volunteers for work in the Jaworzno coal mines; they even paid money for this privilege, just to be sure they had employment. There was competition for every job, and everyone was firmly convinced that work would be their salvation, because that was what they were told by the German labor inspector Kleinecke and his representative Nukish. The latter actually gave considerable assistance -whether free or for money, we cannot determine-to the higher class of Jews in Chrzanow.

Every job given to a Jew had to be certified in Sosnowiec, by the so-called "Special Commission of the S. S. for Foreign Labor Details, " headed by General Schmeltz. To this department belonged those who would later become the Angels of Death for Chrzanow Jewry, such as S.S. Obersturmbanfuehrer and former German Army major, Heinrich Lindner, his adjutant Bruno Ludwik, Sergeant Knol, and the Rumanian Germans Dr. Messner and Kutshinsky. Anyone who received a certificate of work from this department soon had to pay a substantial sum, called "sonder, " to the S.S. each month. Those who made these payments felt-or convinced themselves-that they were safe from being sent to the labor camps.

As in other cities throughout Poland, so too in Chrzanow the ghetto began to be enclosed at the end of 1940. First of all the Plantn became totally Judenrein. The Judenrat, which until then had been quartered at the Jewish community offices at the home of Reb Kalmen Klein, moved into the municipal building on Mickiewicz Street. Thus the Plantn became purely Aryan. An exception was made for the members of the Judenrat, who received special permits, and also for those who had business with the German police, quartered at Reb Mendl Zelinger's house.

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