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[Pages 91-94]

Men Killed for a Few Potatoes

Chaim Birnholc

In March 1943, among those in the transport to Bliżyn [Concentration Camp] were Helman, Feldman (Lemel), two Ofman brothers, two Perlman brothers, Silnicki, Wolfowicz, Wiewiorowski, Gliklich, Fajersztajn and Abramowicz.

A few months later, a group of tailors from “Częstochowianka” [factory] arrived in Bliżyn, among whom was Pinie Jakubowicz. When he later broke his hand breaking rocks, he was sent to Płaszów [Concentration Camp], from whence he never returned.

The majority worked at breaking rocks and one group of comrades in horticulture. Fajersztajn [once] fell asleep during lunchtime from exhaustion and [SS] Oberscharführer [technical sergeant in the SS] Nell found him asleep. At five in the afternoon, the Nazi murderer performed a roll call and announced that, for having slept at lunchtime, Fajersztajn would be shot. By orders of the Oberscharführer, the Ukrainians took Fajersztajn into the forest and, there, killed him.

This incident shook the Jews and several men from Częstochowa, including Feldman (Lemel), escaped from the camp. When, a few days later, Lemel asked some Poles for a drink of water, they recognised him as being a Jew and turned him over to the German police. The killers stripped him of his suit, boots and underwear, which they gave to the Poles as a “reward”. Feldman was brought [back] into the camp completely naked.

The Nazi murderer Nell, again, called all the prisoners together and announced that Lemel would be shot. As usual, the killing was to be carried out by a Ukrainian bandit, who unsheathed a bayonet and began stabbing Feldman. The poor man fell, awash with blood, but the Ukrainian killer poured water over him and forced him to stand up, after which he continued thrusting at him. The blood gushed and the Ukrainian stabbed. Feldman begged to be shot, but the Ukrainian sadistically tortured his victim for over two hours. Gored and slashed almost to death, Feldman was taken away to the forest and shot.


Chaim Birnholc delivering a tearful address at the unveiling of the tombstone on a mass–grave of Jewish martyrs in [town name פלאשניג (Ploshnig) in original, most likely a misprint] (Germany) in 1947


Several weeks later, a Częstochowa resident – a certain Abramowicz – fled the barracks. He, too, was caught by Poles in Końskie. They delivered him into the hands of the Germans and he was brought back to the Bliżyn camp. He was shot before the eyes of all the workers, in addition to which the Germans announced that, from that day onwards, every man would be held responsible for any of his roommates who should escape.

Of the two Perlman brothers, one worked with potatoes. Before entering the camp, the Germans conducted a search and found some potatoes on Perlman. By orders of the murderer Nell, he was shot.

[Pages 93-94]

A Polish Woman's Good Deed

Szmul Niski

Usually, the Poles cooperated openly and cynically with the Germans in destroying the Jewish population and they even rejoiced that they were able to come by robbed Jewish possessions and goods. But there were rare, exceptional occasions on which Polish individuals made efforts to save a Jew's life, even risking their own lives to do so.

Such was the case in the following incident:

Among the Jewish policemen in the Częstochowa ghetto, there was a certain Orensztajn, who came from a good family and never did anyone any harm. His sister and mother now live in Israel.

After the blood–bath[1], his wife (the daughter of Brandlewicz the tailor) stayed on as a seamstress on ul. Garibaldiego.

One evening, Degenhardt came into the tailoring workshop and inquired as to whether she had the means to survive, now that her husband was no longer alive. He demanded an answer from her by the following day. Bewildered and in tears, she came running and begged me, because I worked on the Polish side, to deliver a letter for her to a Christian lady on [Aleja] Wolnoƛci. It could be that this Polish woman would save her.

On Sunday, I went with Grajcer the painter to do work for Unkelbach, Degenhardt's agent. When the master–painter had gone out to lunch, I went up to the “stróż” [Pol.; watchman] and asked him if he could deliver a letter for me. I was not aware he was a Volksdeutsch and that he could, immediately, turn me over to the Gestapo.

But he received twenty złotych from me and sent the letter with his daughter. Half an hour later, the Christian lady, a certain Flora, arrived in a state of agitation and told me not to send anyone to her anymore, and that she would come the next day to ul. Garibaldiego to meet with Mrs Orensztajn.

The reunion took place on time and all was in order.

Mrs Orensztajn, dressed all in black, left with the Polish woman, who hid her in her house for two weeks. She subsequently travelled away to Warsaw.

Mrs Orensztajn survived the occupation and, to this day, lives in Australia.

Translator's footnote:

  1. In which her husband was obviously killed. Return

[Pages 95-100]

The Workers Council in Częstochowa

Zvi Rozenwajn




A localised Jewish institution existed inside the Częstochowa ghetto – The Workers Council.

A few days after “Bloody Monday” (4th September 1939), members of “Ha'Chalutz” and the “Working Land of Israel League” held deliberations concerning the renewal of activities at the pioneers' farm which, following the evacuation of most of its members, had been destroyed by the local Poles. Engineer Leib Horowicz and Simche Lastman displayed great selflessness at the time, saving the possessions and goods of the farm which, under the new circumstances, should have been the centre of all the illegal political and educational information work.

The Workers Council was established in May 1940, when the law of forced labour for Jews was implemented.

The entire brunt of this harsh law was borne by the poor workers and commoners. In many cases, this spelt absolute ruin. Labouring in Bugaj [a neighbourhood of Częstochowa] was extremely difficult. We were forced to stand all day long, barefoot in water, and work hard. Due to the widespread want, men came to work without food and it often happened that they fell unconscious to the ground from hunger and physical exhaustion.

This same slave–labour was, nevertheless, a great source of monetary income for the Judenrat, which took pay–offs from certain individuals to not go to work, and it put that money to various uses.

The leaders of “Ha'Chalutz” then resolved to organise a campaign and demand from the Judenrat that the workers should alternate. Afterwards, once the “Kucelinka” and “Bugaj” workplaces had been set up, it was decided to hold a protest rally at the hall of the Judenrat.

On 12th May 1940, a crowd of a thousand people, headed by the leaders of the Workers Council – Szyldhaus, Szmulewicz and Rozenwajn – occupied the Judenrat's premises and, under the pressure of the assembled public, the representatives of the Judenrat were forced to give in to certain demands, such as organising workers' kitchens and distributing bread rations to those working.

In the autumn of 1940, the Jewish population was shocked by the German demand that a thousand young men present themselves for compulsory work in Cieszanów and Hrubieszów (Lublin region). In its proclamations, the Judenrat wrote that the work would be well–paid and it requested that volunteers should present themselves. The result was that Judenrat sent volunteers, including the under–aged and the sick.

It was not long before terrible news began coming from the camps – hunger, filth and torture. Then news came of the first victims in Cieszanów. The embitterment of the Jewish population grew daily. Every day, hundreds of people went to the Judenrat headquarters, where heartrending scenes were played out.


Institutions are Organised

The Workers Council decides to conduct clandestine elections in all workplaces, appointing one delegate for every fifty workers. In December 1940, the first conference of the delegates was held in which the resolution was taken to organise autonomous relief institutions – health insurance, a banking system, and a disability fund. Each labourer was required to pay a weekly fee. It was also decided to demand from the Judenrat, as the employer, that it mete out a payment of 35% of the sums collected from the workers. It should be noted that, at this conference, all ideological differences dividing the participants disappeared.


Institutions are organized


The Workers Council's first large operation was conducted in the spring of 1941, when it demanded that the labourers' bread rations be increased. Because the Judenrat was not willing to accede, a mass assembly was called, at which the decision was made to call a hunger–strike. On the day of the strike, the workers barricaded the Judenrat's premises and the atmosphere was charged. The Judenrat threatened that they would allow us to be arrested but, thanks to our courageous stand, the Judenrat was forced to conduct negotiations, and the workers received additional bread.


In the Struggle Against Hunger

In the spring of 1941 the ghetto was created in Częstochowa and the Workers Council fought a fierce battle to secure lodgings for the working families, who had no privileges.

In the summer of 1941, the hunger took on catastrophic proportions and it was again necessary to fight for the bread rations to be increased. This resulted in three members of the Workers Council being arrested by the Jewish police – they were Mojsze Liebling, Izrael Szyldhaus and Zvi Rozenwajn. The workers made the Judenrat free the detainees and, thanks to negotiations, the labourers received a small additional bread ration.

As the hunger and necessity grew even more, the Workers Council proposed setting up public soupkitchens, but this suggestion was cast aside. Despite this, the Workers Council independently conducted a great relief operation with its own means and distributed hundreds of thousands of złotych (a vast sum at the time) each month to the needy.

A drama circle is founded, as well as a children's and youth choir. Musical and literary evenings are conducted. At the theatre, Sholem Aleichem's “The Jackpot” is performed, with a great following.

At the end of 1941, the poet Ch.L. Zytnicki came to Częstochowa from Lemberg [Lwów]. He worked with us until the liquidation. Below, we publish bulletins on the activity of the Workers Council:


Kibbutzim [Collectives] are Founded

In the winter of 1941, news reached us from the Eastern Territories and, later, from other places, regarding the mass annihilation of entire Jewish settlements. Taking into consideration than, in Częstochowa also, such terrible happenings could take place, we wished to create Kibbutzim, which would be political support points for an organised resistance. Józef Kaplan came from the central offices of “Ha'Chalutz” in Warsaw, as did Marjem Hajnsdorf from “Ha'Shomer Ha'Tzair”. Later, Frumke Plotnicka and Rywka Glanc from “Dror” and Leizer Geller from “Gordonia” came. We suggested forming a unified kibbutz, but were unsuccessful. In the end, we decided that “Ha'Shomer Ha'Tzair” should organise its own kibbutz and “Dror”, together with “Gordonia”, another one. The

Workers Council strongly supported these Kibbutzim.


Judenrat – Against the Resistance

Meanwhile, the tearful news came of the liquidation of Warsaw. In our bewilderment, we felt there was no chance of salvation. The Workers Council put forward, to the Judenrat, that the population should show passive resistance by not allowing themselves to be transported in wagons. But the Judenrat dismissed this idea, arguing that such resistance might put in jeopardy the twelve thousand labourers who were considered to be safe.

Many then enlisted as policemen, thinking that this would save them and their families from Nazi claws. The Workers Council strictly prohibited its members to join the police force.

All false hopes and illusions were dashed by the bitter reality. The Workers Council's tragic last meeting was held on the night of Yom Kippur, at the house of Mojsze Liebling at ul. Katedralna 11, when the ghetto was already surrounded by Gestapo and policemen.


Warning from the Judenrat that instances of leaving the ghetto not be repeated


The poet Ch.L. Zytnicki also took part in this meeting.

We parted company with heavy spirits, not knowing if we would survive the day to come.

[Pages 101-114]

The Terror Increases

Szlojme Waga

Signs appeared of harsher terror in relation to the Jewish population. A member of the Gestapo once detained a Jew outside the ghetto, took him into a courtyard and shot him. The Jewish police received an order by telephone, two hours later, that they should come with a horse–drawn wagon and take away “das dreck” [Ger.; the rubbish] (viz., the victim) that would be found at the indicated address.

Several days later, two youths were detained, by the Gestapo, in the ghetto after eight o'clock at night. The Jews presented their [night] passes, but the Gestapo took them away from them and ordered them to enter their car. They drove the young men to the cemetery, robbed them of everything they had and shot them.

Another case that illustrates the increase in terror occurred at the office of the Stadthauptmann [mayor]:

A Jewish physician named Dr Wolberg, who was in charge of the ghetto's sanitation, was called to this office. Being forced to wait a long time, Dr Wolberg started to read a German newspaper which he had with him. At this point, the Stadthauptmann's deputy, with whom the doctor was well acquainted, came out of one of the offices and, despite their knowing each other, tore the newspaper out of the doctor's hands in anger, moreover slapping and admonishing him that “A Jew does not need to read a newspaper, especially not a German one!

The Judenrat was suddenly ordered by the regime to vacate its premises at Aleja 11, within two days, and to move their offices to ul. Garncarska, to the building in which the Crafts School had been located for many years. All the equipment and machines of the locksmith, carpentry and electrical departments had been removed beforehand and given to the Polish Crafts School. The Judenrat made great efforts to carry out the order within the designated time limit. Two days later, the Jewish tenants of the adjacent house were thrown out and concerns arose that the whole Aleja would soon be “purified” of Jews. The Jews, therefore, began taking anything they could out of their houses and transferring their belongings to acquaintances who lived in the streets deeper inside the ghetto.

Others brought valuable possessions and merchandise to Christian acquaintances. Every day, they feared that policemen would arrive and drive them out of their residences.

he panic grew even more at the end of August, with the news that the “Juden Ausrottung Kommando” [Commando for the Extermination of Jews] would be coming to Częstochowa. Many began to set up secret hiding–places in cellars and attics. The Stadthauptmann ordered the Judenrat to make “contribution” (a fine) of 550,000 złotych, without explaining why. At a Judenrat meeting, it was decided that the sum must be paid, just as previous fines had been paid. Some were even of the opinion that, if the sum were to be mustered quickly, it would save the Jewish population from the impending doom.

But the question arose: Where was such a large sum to be found, and swiftly, to boot?!

Were they to tax the masses? It would, naturally, take a long time. It was therefore decided to ask the affluent Jews that they immediately lend this sum to the Judenrat, 70% of which would be returned once they collected the money from the general population. Having reached this decision, the well–to–do Jews were summoned to the Judenrat, where the Chairman described the approaching danger that threatened the Jews if the sum was not paid within the required term. The majority at once gave significant sums and some paid on the following day.

The Judenrat approached anyone whom they considered had any substantial means and a special commission was created to this purpose, which determined the quota that each was required to pay. The vast majority gave their share and, those who refused to do so, were forced to pay by the police. However, the scale of the Judenrat's monetary needs was so large that the newly–collected money melted in their hands and the wealthy Jews, who had given vast sums as loans, never saw their money again.


A Letter from Berlin

A local man, a well–known Jew in the city, once received a letter from his daughter in Berlin through a trustworthy clandestine channel. Years earlier, she had married a German who was an important figure in Germany. She somehow managed to remain with her husband and, here she was, writing to her parents, who had always been the dearest in the world to her, that she had heard from very reliable sources about the extermination of the Jews in the countries occupied by the Germans.

Therefore, she advises her parents to commit suicide and names various drugs and chemical preparations which would cause instant – painless – death. She goes on to implore her parents to do this with all possible haste, for they have little time left. Furthermore, the daughter notes that, if they do commit suicide and if fate should decree that she and her son Heinrich should survive, she would sometimes be able make a pilgrimage to their graves and commune with their memory. Only if they committed suicide would she be able to find their graves. But, if they waited for the general extermination, they would suffer a great deal. If, however, she and her son did not survive and this was entirely possible should it become known she is a Jew, her husband would visit their graves and also write to her sister, Liza, in Palestine, so that she should know where to find her parents after their deaths.

She bids her parents farewell with moving words, as does her son, who parts with his grandparents in a touching manner. Her husband also writes them a stirring letter, assuring them he is doing everything possible to save his beloved wife and [only] son. The paper, containing these tragic words, became warped in many places by the great amount of tears shed from the distraught daughter's weeping eyes which it had absorbed.

She then writes that she would have preferred to send the tears, wet and hot, straight from her eyes, but this being impossible, she bids them to accept them as they are, within the wrinkled paper, just as she had used to send dried flowers in her letters to her parents in the past.

The harrowing contents of this shocking letter loomed over the ghetto as a spectre. It threw terror into everyone who heard of it [or read it]. People listened and thought to themselves, “If a daughter has decided to give such advice to her parents!!!…”

This letter did much to increase the fear and panic of the people towards what was to come.


The Cieszanów Labour Camp

There was a small shtetl in the Lublin area named Cieszanów, where the Germans created a labour camp for the Jews. The Jewish labour office was ordered, by the authorities, to provide a thousand young men between the ages of 15–18 [sic.; 18–25, in the original]. Clerks immediately went out with notifications and demanded of young Jews to present themselves at the labour office during the course of the day, in order to be sent from there to the workplace.

Meanwhile, the Judenrat made use of the opportunity to increase its funds and permitted the rich to ransom themselves with the payment of money. Others – from amongst the poor – were forced to take their place, of course. Several days after the youths were sent away to the camp, letters arrived from them, which told of horrible conditions. They were being tortured, cruelly beaten and had nothing to eat. The parents of the young people, upon receiving this terrifying news, ran to the Judenrat to ask for help. But here too, the Judenrat was unable, as always, to extend any aid at all.

Thus passed the summer and, only in the autumn of 1940, when escapees from the camp arrived, did we learn, in detail from their stories, what had happened in the camp since they had first arrived there:

Upon leaving Częstochowa, they had been conducted under armed escort to Lublin, where they were loaded onto cattle–wagons. They were then handed over to the S.A. [Sturmabteilung; paramilitaries], who had come especially from Cieszanów to take the slave–labourers there. Upon their arrival at night, the S.A. men took them out of the wagons and made them march for several kilometres – whipping them with iron whips – until they reached the camp. Here they fell, exhausted and broken, onto the [bare] ground and only at daybreak were they first able to look around them and see the barracks – without roofs – that had been erected by the Jews who had been brought there before. But there was little time to look around, because the troubles began at once. They received their daily rations – 100 grams of bread and a half–litre of watery soup – and were then taken to work in the adjacent woods, where the Germans were secretly building fortifications near the German–Russian border, [this was in 1940] when Germany and Russia still had what was considered a “friendly” relationship. The Jews dug pits under the supervision of the S.A. As they dug, they were cruelly beaten with lead riding crops which flew over their heads. With rifles and whips, the German killers cracked heads, disfigured faces, gouged out eyes and knocked out teeth – and often, after such “operations,” many people lay dead at the workplace.

The dead were thrown into the pits on the spot and covered with earth. They had but one epithet for all Jews – “Israel”. Jews chopped down trees in the forests and the Germans beat them, regardless whether someone worked well or poorly.

The murderers devised various methods of torture. Suddenly an S.A. man might order a Jew to lower his trousers and to lie with his backside facing upwards on a cut–down tree trunk. He would then force two of his working colleagues to beat him with [thin] branches with all their might. And, if the blows they gave him seemed to him not strong enough, he would order them to also lie down in the same manner – and he would take up a piece of wood, himself, and would beat all three until the blood gushed forth. He often continued beating his victims until they had stopped screaming from the pain and fell unconscious off the tree trunk onto the blood–soaked ground. Whoever no longer stood up on his feet was flung into the pit and covered with soil.

Once, It occurred that a young man stood up in the middle of a beating and asked the S.S. [sic; S.A.] man, “Why am I being beaten?” The punishment for his daring to inquire was horrific – he was forced to put his hands in his trouser pockets and, in this position, he was placed in the pit and buried alive. Only his hair was left sticking out, as a warning – here is what happens to those who ask questions. “Jews”, they said, “must only do as they are told, and not ask questions.”


Funeral of the twenty seven victims, who were murdered at the Rynek Warszawski [a square in Częstochowa] in 1943. The funeral took place in 1946.


The commander of the labour camp was one named Dolf, a major, who had not earned the title “King of the Sadists” without good reason. One of his favourite “games” was to have people stand in a row and to hit them between the eyes with his revolver. However, the Jews had become so indifferent to death, that the call to come and participate in this “game” no longer made any impression on them. For them, dying by a bullet constituted a “luxurious death” – it was better to be shot than to fall under a hail of blows or to be buried alive in the ground. Major Dolf visited the labour sites every day, and, in every division, he left several people dead.

Major Dolf had a son living not far from the camp, who would often come to visit his father. Dolf Junior was unfortunately a sports enthusiast and was particularly fond of boxing. He would make several Jews stand in a row and “learn” boxing with them, hitting them cruelly in the face and in all parts of their bodies. After the Jews fell powerless to the ground, he would drive them out of the room, whacking them over the head and would then bring in others to replace them. He would hold several suchlike “rounds”. Dolf Junior, just like his father, enjoyed shooting live people. But, whereas his father shot them between the eyes, he aimed for the middle of the head. The killer did this in this fashion – he would order a Jew to run and would shoot after him until he had hit the middle of his head. Every time he came to the camp, he engaged in this “sport”, until he had hit the centre of a Jew's “clever” head, as was his expression.

Major Dolf and his son had trained hounds, which they would set upon the Jewish workers. The dogs fall upon the victims and would tear pieces of flesh from their faces and bodies. Once the gruesome carnage had concluded, they were submitted to affective petting and fussing by their masters.

One summer night, several drunken S.A. men barged into a barrack with metal whips in their hands, and ordered one hundred Jews to go out naked into the courtyard. Several Jews were shot at once on the spot. Those remaining were ordered to march to the small town of Cieszanów. Upon arriving there, they were marched naked to the cemetery. The S.A. men whipped them the entire way and, when they arrived at the cemetery, their flesh was crisscrossed with wounds and scars and their bodies burned with the heat of the cruel blows that had been hailed on them. Only three had been able to escape along the way.

The cutthroats ordered the Jews to dig pits, but there were no spades. So the S.A. men made them run to swampy ground, where they shot everyone.

Several young men in the barracks decided to escape to the Russian side. They worked diligently at their posts, so as not to arouse any suspicion and, on a dark night, they very cautiously sneaked out of the barracks. They made it to the nearby woods and set out towards the Russian border.

After several hours of losing their way, they were stopped by the Russian Border Guard, who took them to their unit's headquarters to be interrogated. They were questioned and their statements regarding the appalling conditions in the German labour camp were taken down. But they explained that, by agreement with the Germans, the Russians could not permit anyone to cross the border illegally and that they would therefore be sent back to the Germans.

All their endeavours and begging were to no avail and, on a dark night, they were taken by the Russians back to the border, which they had to steal across and then penetrate back into the camp clandestinely. Here, they joined a different group of workers, thus erasing their tracks.


The Akcja of 22nd September 1942

On Yom Kippur, 21st September 1942, the city's streets looked as on any regular weekday. The men went in groups to their workplaces, while the women engaged in cleaning the windows and doors of the German offices. The teachers, lawyers and other intellectuals marched, in orderly rows, with brooms on their shoulders to their workplaces. And anyone, in general, who had somewhere to work, rushed with hurried steps to the appointed place, tapping the rhythm of a slave–march out with their wooden clogs. Only here and there flitting shadows moved along the wall, pressed closely to it, cautiously, to avoid being seen. These were elderly individuals, who were attempting to reach the synagogue to spend the entire day there in prayer.

At the offices of the Judenrat, the officials sat without any work, for on this day there were no applicants. At one point, an official entered, in conversation with the German chief – Herr Frentzel. He told him of the fear that reigned, among the Jews, of the forthcoming “deportations”. Upon hearing this, Frentzel was angered, and he burst out, “Have you gone mad? There is no such thing!”

At the official's request, Frentzel rang various places, after which he explicitly stated that nothing would happen, because “where would he find the thousands of people he needed for work?”

Nevertheless, an atmosphere of impending doom loomed over the ghetto. Some even said that on the following day, 22nd September, the deportation of Jews would take place in Częstochowa. Information filtered through, from the “Aryan” side, that Ukrainians and Latvians had already arrived in the city and had boasted somewhere that they had come here to put an end to the Jews. A Polish lady, who owned a restaurant, said that Ukrainians and Latvians, who had come from Warsaw, had already been eating at her restaurant for several days. On one occasion, they even told her that they had been in the Warsaw ghetto for two months and had liquidated the Jews there. Now they would do the same with the Jews of Częstochowa.

This news spread and soared through the ghetto streets like a windstorm and the terror grew from moment to moment. On the large square near the ghetto limits, all the sergeants of the gendarmerie were seen assembled. They had been given various nicknames for their cruelty – “White Head,” “Barrel,” “Killer,” “Throat” and others. They stood there [with their bicycles], holding discussions amongst themselves, in constant movement. Every now and then, one would ride off and return after a while, after which somebody else would go off. They carried on their conversations almost in whispers, pointing with their hands here to one street, there to another. It all gave the impression that something was being planned here. The Jews, who noticed these movements, pointed out the scenario which was unfolding before their eyes to the others, and the panic grew.

However, a calming message from the Chairman of the Judenrat was spread in the afternoon hours, after the authorities had notified him he was to tell the Jews that nothing would happen to them, and that all the rumours were groundless. To the Craftsmen's House [?] came the lawyer Pohoryles, Chief of the Judenrat organisation – a mature and composed man – who assured, with complete certainty, that he “had heard from reliable sources that there is no cause for fear – not tomorrow, nor the day after tomorrow, and that nothing will happen to anyone at all.” At that same time, an officer from the gendarmerie and his wife came to a craftsman and commissioned several items, the production of which would take over a fortnight. Very cautiously, the craftsman remarked to the German that according to rumours, “something” was to happen tomorrow that might prevent the completion of his order. The officer dismissed this rumour laughingly and promised that “here, in town, nothing will happen.” The good news spread throughout the ghetto with the speed of lightning and the fear fell from the faces of the Jews to a certain extent.


The Streetlights Remain Lit All Night

However, the calming news could not entirely banish all concerns from Jewish hearts. The ominous signs were too apparent to not worry. Therefore, people did not sleep at all on the night after Yom Kippur, but stayed up at home. It was a very dark night. Usually, the streetlights were turned off, as a precaution against aircraft. How those who stayed up all night were astonished to see all the lights suddenly turned on, this time remaining lit all night long!

It was as if the danger of aerial attacks had suddenly ceased to be a concern and the lights shone as they had done before the War. Furthermore, an electrician surveyed the ghetto streets, checking the entire electrical grid.

In my case, I went out onto my balcony at home. It had a view from the Aleja, along all its length as far as the Nowy Rynek. I saw unfamiliar military units. They were short, stocky fellows, dressed in long coats, with guns on their shoulders. Besides these, there were also gendarmes. They marched into the ghetto in groups, stopping before each house and leaving one or two of their men as guards. Under my balcony, on my threshold, two gendarmes with metal helmets on their heads stood guard. A little further, on the “Aryan” side, two others stood while, in the middle [of the Aleja], patrols of gendarmes and Ukrainians marched back and forth. In the quiet of the night, various military commands were heard from further inside the ghetto – “Right! Left! March!” Someone stopped in front of our gate and called to the guard to open it. None of the tenants was asleep any longer. We turned our gaze to the gate and saw that a Polish policeman had come to summon the chief of the Jewish police's deputy and several other policemen who lived in the building to report at once to the police headquarters. We did not get any answers to our questions about what was happening. The Polish policeman was extremely agitated and he hurried off to call Jewish policemen out from other houses.

At about five o'clock in the morning, we suddenly heard the shots and the roars of the Germans. The fusillades and the clamour continued until daybreak and, suddenly, we saw that a great multitude of Jews, with small packs on their backs, was being conducted by the Germans to the same square where the gendarmes had held their discussions the previous day. Fear seized us, the residents of the Craftsmen's House. We gathered together, several families in one residence and, from time to time, stole a glance out the window. We saw how the Gestapo, with the Totenkopf [Death's Head] insignia on their hats and uniforms and with pistols drawn, were herding multitudes of Jews to the square.

This “operation”, accompanied with shooting and roaring, lasted for several hours. While this was happening, we noticed a Jewish policeman enter our house. The previous night, he had left his wife there with relatives. Upon seeing this policeman, several of us hurried down to the dwelling he had entered. We saw him standing and crying like a small child. He told us that horrible things were happening in the ghetto.

When the Jewish policemen arrived the police headquarters in the morning, they were ordered by Degenhardt, who was in charge of the whole operation, to carry out the instructions they were about to receive accurately. “Whoever does not conform to these commands”, the German threatened, “will be shot on the spot!”

Firstly, they received the task to enter all the Jewish homes in the streets that would be indicated to them and to tell all the Jews – everyone: men, women and children – that they should come out in groups and walk in orderly rows, one behind the other, to the Nowy Rynek. They were only permitted to take along small packs. The houses were to remain open, with the keys in the door. And, again, the threat, “Whoever hides – will be shot!”


This is My Mother

Degenhardt's orders shook the hearts of the Jewish policemen and their faces became pale. They grasped the essence of the sorrowful role that they had to carry out, but they nevertheless set forth to fulfil the command.

However, it seemed that this was not completely left to the Jewish policemen. The ghetto streets were full of gendarmes and Gestapo men, who burst into residences and drove the people out, searching everyone's pockets and yelling, “Money! Diamonds!”, and robbing them of anything of value. The old and the sick, those could not move, were shot then and there. These were the shots and shouting that we had heard at daybreak. The policeman then told us that he had led his mother outside the house, because her crippled legs had failed and she could not walk by herself.

But, as he led her through the streets, someone pushed him from behind, making him fall to the ground. He at once recovered and, as he sprung to his feet, he saw how the murderer was pointing a revolver at his mother's heart. He only had time to shout out, “This is my mother!” and three shots instantly rang out. The mother fell there and, within seconds, gave up her spirit. He carried her into a courtyard and hid her in a garden, covering her with branches. As he concluded his account, the policeman burst into tears and hastened to leave the dwelling.

At around three o'clock in the afternoon, the policemen, who lived with us at the Craftsmen's House, returned. They were exhausted and shattered. After they had somewhat composed themselves, they began to tell us what had happened in the ghetto.

One described how small children, aged between three to eight, who had been put in the care of Poles on the “Aryan” side the previous day for great sums of money – for fear of the operation – were driven by the Poles out of their houses. The children ran about frightened and confused, but the Germans and their Ukrainian helpers did not allow them back into the ghetto, but instead chased them into the square, where a great multitude was concentrated. The children cried and screamed, but no one paid them any attention. The masses of thousands of people were chased by the German murderers and their Ukrainian helpers with sticks and pistols, so that the children were simply crushed and trampled under the feet of the pursued masses.

The operation encompassed the streets Garibaldiego, Wilsona, Krótka, Kawia and part of Warszawska. It was decided that, in the first operation, 7,000 Jews should be gathered and deported.

Degenhardt, the Hauptmann, stood in the market square with a baton in his hand like an orchestra conductor and contemplated the multitudes passing before him. When he noticed a strong man or a beautiful young woman, he pointed with his wand and the person indicated was immediately taken from the row and placed at the side. This meant – remains.

Those saved were forced to relinquish their families and this needed to be done quickly. No goodbyes were said. Tears streamed down cheeks, eyes stared sorrowfully, children wept and women tore their hair – all this quickly, quickly – the murderers kept “order”, pushing and shoving, and wildly shouting, “Quickly, quickly!”

The Hauptmann ordered that the Jewish doctors and their families be placed in quarantine and that they remain there. The wives and children of the Jewish policemen were also to be taken there. The unmarried doctors and policemen took advantage of the opportunity and pointed to female acquaintances as being their wives, so that they too should be taken to “safety”.

The large mass of people was conducted, by troops, to the Warta train station, where railway wagons and gendarmes were already waiting. Here, an order was given that all Jews take their shoes off and lay them aside.

Great mounds of shoes at once piled high, each pair tied together by its laces. Then, a second command was given: “Enter the wagons!” Here, there was pushing, blows and pandemonium, until everyone was crammed into the wagons. The crowding was horrific. More than one hundred people were packed into each railway wagon. The Gestapo men looted here too, taking anything they could lay their hands on.

The Chairman of the Judenrat, after much effort, received permission to have his wife brought to the office of the Judenrat and to save her in this manner. But, when he went to bring her there, he heard from a Jewish policeman that she had already been loaded into a railway wagon. He ran to an officer of the gendarmerie whom he knew and asked him for help to extract his wife, citing the authorisation he had received from Degenhardt. The officer agreed and went with him to the railway wagon to free his wife. As she was alighting, another lady managed to toss her infant child into her arms and she brought it away with her. Everyone stretched their hands out to the Chairman of the Judenrat, pleading, “Take me out of her. I am weak. My heart will not withstand this crowded carriage.” However, the heavy wagon doors rolled on their small wheels and all the cries and entreaties were dimmed, silenced, and disappeared. One after the other, the doors of the other wagon were also closed and the train began to move.

[Pages 113-116]

The Aleje After the Destruction

Zvi Rozenwajn

When the Nazi army marched into Częstochowa on the third day of the War, the appearance of the Aleje was completely altered.


Decree to wear arm–band


Already on the following day, Monday, 4th September 1939, signs of our [forthcoming] destruction were apparent. Under the false accusations that Jews had shot at Germans, the bandits attacked the Jewish population and the Aleje gushed with Jewish blood. By each house lay the dead bodies of victims. In many places, one could see mothers with small children clinging onto them, lying together, murdered.

Following the first storming, these decrees were implemented – the closing of Jewish shops and the wearing of arm–bands.

The Aleje acquired a different, gloomy facade. The Jewish party locales, social institutions and banks were closed down and others were established in their places, to serve the Gestapo in annihilating the Jews. The locales, which had formerly been the source of effervescent Jewish life, were transformed into a valley of tears. In them were now seen Jewish forced labourers, with their wooden clogs and paper [thin?] clothes/rags, [being] banished to slave–labour, or young Jews being carried away from there to the concentration and death camps.


On the Last Road

It weighs heavily and tragically on the heart when, before your mind, the last images of the Aleje appear – visions of destruction and death.

In rows of five they march, the Jews of the narrow ulicy – Garncarska, Targowa, [and] Nadrzeczna. Dressed in their finest holiday attire, with and without bundles on their shoulders, with children in their arms and clasping each other's hands, they march to the end of the Nowy Rynek, at the beginning of the first Aleja. There, they must march in three single files past the selection point, where the Nazi fiend Degenhardt and his helpers stand. They choose – who to the left and who to the right. The elderly, the infirm and the children are sent to the left. To the right are sent some of the young people capable of working who are retained for slave–labour. Those on the left are conducted to the market square and, from there, they are transported to the gas chambers.

Those on the right are taken along the Aleja to ul. Wilsona, which they follow to the Landau Bros. factory square on ul. Krótka.

That same evening, six hundred Jewish men and women were conducted from the Landau Bros. square to the “Golgota” cinema next to Jasna Góra.

In rows of five, they marched, guarded by the villainous ethnic–German Sonderdienst [Special Services] men, accompanied by blows from gunstocks and insults, and by the spiteful laughter of the hundreds of Poles out promenading. Just over yonder, in the first Aleja, is blood and ruin. And here, at the other end of the same set of avenues, the windows are bright with light and the sounds of dance–music emerge from the parlours of entertainment.


A Dreadful Emptiness

Later, as well, Jews march along the Aleje. They are led out from the gate of the Small Ghetto along Krótka, Wilsona, and the Aleje, to their designated workplaces. Everywhere, scenes of destruction are seen. By the church at the Nowy Rynek, we see a tall mound of utensils taken from Jewish dwellings. Silken caftans lay strewn about. On a different spot, we see books, jumbled together with linen. Everywhere, we see large puddles of blood intermingled with an assortment of [scattered] homewares. All the houses are empty, cleared out – a dreadful lament seeps forth from all around.

A few of the marching Jews tear away from this environment of slavery. Some, who go, seek the path to the forest and others desire to steal across the border.

Those who decide to escape from the rows, too, walk on their hometown's Last Road, where on all sides thousands of deathly perils lurk, along the Aleje.

[Pages 115-122]

The Fifth Akcja

Szlojme Waga

On 4th October 1942, it was learned that all the remaining Jewish policemen were ordered to take part in the operation that would take place the next day at daybreak – the fifth akcja.

The fifth akcja began like the earlier ones, but it was at once apparent that a special plan had been prepared for it. Firstly, it was conducted at a faster pace than all the previous ones. the people were driven to the Nowy Rynek at an earlier hour than in the past. Also, more Jews were shot in the streets than in the other operations. The Hauptmann directed more energetically and sternly with his baton and, also, the blows fell upon the Jewish heads more often. The henchmen's assistants did not permit anyone to stop in front of the Hauptmann to beg for mercy. The railway wagons were filled sooner than during the earlier operations and the mountains of shoes of the people loaded onto the train piled up very quickly.

At the end of the march of the thousands of Jews to the wagons, Degenhardt ordered his chauffeur to take him and his aides to the ghetto. Once there, he first of all went to the assembly point on ul. Katedralna and ordered that the assembled be taken to the wagons. He then ordered that the Jewish policemen, who were being held under arrest at the school, be brought there with their wives and children.

Finally, the Hauptmann and his assistants went to the Jewish hospital and had all the doctors and nurses summoned to him. When these had assembled, he told them to inject all the patients hospitalised there with poison, to “finish them off” quickly.

The doctors attempted saving the situation with various excuses, such as not having the appropriate materials for the injections, etc. The commander replied to this, that if the operation was not executed within two hours, he would order all the doctors and nurses to be shot, along with all the patients.


Memorial service at the mass grave of the victims from the intelligentsia


After long and painful discussions, the doctors decided to put the patients to death by injection. The hospital's head physician, the surgeon Dobrzyński, gave out the first order. He told his mother to poison her mother, that is, his grandmother. His mother, who lived on the hospital's premises, put poison in a glass of tea and gave it to her mother to drink. When the old lady began writhing in agony, Dr Dobrzynski, her grandson, gave her an injection which put her to sleep forever. Her daughter's eyes welled with tears and she cursed her hands, if she had sinned by poisoning her own mother.

The sick were forced to receive the injections. Those who struggled were poisoned by force. The doctors and the nurses worked at hastening the deaths of the sick with tears in their eyes. When all lay already dead, the doctors and nurses stood by the dead people and wept for the deaths and the deeds they had done.

It was then reported to the Hauptmann that no patients remained in the hospital, only corpses, to which he replied, “Yes, that's good!”

A significant section of the hospital staff was then sent to the railway wagons, whereas the doctors and some of the nurses – the younger and more beautiful ones – were put in quarantine.

The commander then visited the hospital for epidemic diseases. Dr Kagan, the director of the hospital, had in the past operations endeavoured to have all the patients standing on their feet [during the akcja], in order to save their lives. But this time, he was unsuccessful as, on Degenhardt's orders, all the patients as well as the hospital staff were sent away to the railway wagons. Only a small fraction was sent to quarantine.

After liquidating the hospitals, Hauptmann Degenhardt turned his attention to seeking out Jews who were in contact with Germans. He found [Kolenbrener,] the well–known director of the Jewish housing office, who had been hiding for several days in a factory and ordered that he be sent to the railway wagons.

He then ordered to find Wajnryb, the renowned Judenrat member, who was well–connected with some of the Gestapo men – they had actually hidden him. Nevertheless, Degenhardt's men found him and brought him in. In response to his having concealed himself, the Hauptmann ordered that all Jews named Wajnryb be brought to him.

Men, women and children, the Judenrat member Wajnryb's entire family, his wife and children, his brothers, sisters and their families were brought directly and everyone was sent away to the trains. Also, others who had any connection at all with the Gestapo were found and sent to the wagons. Finally, the arch–murderer Degenhardt and his men went to the Craftsmen's House at Aleja 14. Immediately upon their arrival there, they bellowed for all to go down to the courtyard, leaving the doors of their apartments open. All the craftsmen and their wives descended, each holding their personal documents.

All were ordered to line up with their families in front of their individual workshops. The Hauptmann did not even glance at the papers they held, but asked each his age and profession.

He separated the young from the elderly and the children and put them in different groups. He then announced, “You are all going! The old are going to a camp and the young will work. You will not necessarily be engaged in your own professions. You will be able to do other jobs too.”

This news shattered everyone. Their faces paled, and they were rendered speechless. A deathly silence prevailed. Just then, steps were heard and here came Mrs. Moszewicz. She stood awhile, until the commander approached her, upon which they conferred privately for several minutes.

Degenhardt then returned to us, with slow steps, and began searching through the rows of the old people.

The atmosphere was charged with tension and we sensed that the lot had fallen upon the elderly.

Following the selection of the old people, he ordered us to go back home and help them prepare for the journey, so that they should stand again in the courtyard within ten minutes. “They are leaving!” he added.

Heart–breaking scenes ensued in the homes of the elderly, who had been selected for transport.

Standing by the windows, we saw how Degenhardt first looked at his watch and then turned his glance up to the windows. A gendarme instantly shouted, “Herunter [Come down]!” And the master craftsman, in charge of the knitting workshop, Fajgenblat and his wife came down to the courtyard. They wiped their tears and waved their hands to the windows at which their two sons stood with their wives and beautiful grandson, who was ceaselessly crying out, “Zaydeshi! Bubbeshi! [Granddaddy! Granny!] Stay here with us! Don't go away!”

The child's shrill voice cut through the gruesome silence of the courtyard, where the Hauptmann and his men ambled about. The tailor Brandlewicz then joined the old couple, with his wife and ten–yearold grandson, whose parents had been deported in an earlier akcja. They also waved up to the windows where their dear ones stood. From the other exit came the devout seamstress, dressed in her shaitl [wig worn by religious married women], together with her husband, the son of the Rabbi of Kłobuck. They walked weeping. They were still very young – what did the murderer want from them?

The old Frank [surname], who had come here to visit his sons, joined them. And next to them [stood] a tall, powerful man about fifty years of age – he was Wolfowicz, the corset maker's husband. The commander had asked him what his occupation was, to which he had replied, “My wife makes corsets.” Everyone knew that he was a locksmith. What had happened was that he had been startled and was so distracted that he did not know what to say. The commander had not found his answer satisfactory, so he selected him to be sent away.

A little later, we saw Grin the tailor's father–in–law and mother–in–law descend to the courtyard with packs on their shoulders. It seems that [even] the fact that their son–in–law, [who was also] a policeman and had a good connection with Degenhardt, had not stood them in good stead.

The group of people in the courtyard grew constantly larger and everyone was ordered to line up in a row. (They were also joined by the tailor Lenkinski and Chaimke, the renowned women's tailor.)

When the children wished to approach their parents and speak with them, the gendarmes prevented them from doing so. They were only allowed to give them money and things which they had forgotten to take with them.

Suddenly, a commotion broke out. This was due to the fact that the gendarmes had discovered four women and a boy of twelve hiding in one of the cellars. They were brought out of their hiding–place and were added to the group standing in the courtyard. In all, the group consisted of nineteen people. The gendarmes counted them and ordered them to exit the yard, with the teary eyes of their sons, daughters, brothers and sisters accompanying them.

The following day, Mrs. Moszewicz told [the craftsmen] that the akcja had transpired “relatively well” for the Craftsmen's House.

She revealed that she had, at the very last moment, convinced the Hauptmann to take only 10% of those destined for deportation. As 190 people were registered for deportation, he took 19. Had she not arrived, he would have taken 90% and he would have sent 10% to the workshops, thus liquidating the Craftsmen's House. She had explained this to him at the last minute and he had agreed that the Craftsmen's House should continue functioning.


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