One day, the Germans discovered the bunker at ul. Nadrzeczna 82, where weapons were manufactured. The Gestapo men shouted that whoever was living there was to come out. The few who emerged were immediately loaded onto freight vans and transported to the cemetery, where they were shot.
Before long, the freight vans returned from the cemetery. Another group of men, women and children were then loaded onto them. Heartrending scenes took place. Women wailed and screamed that they were young, that they wanted to remain alive. All stood as if petrified, but no one could help. At the same time, shots were heard in the ghetto, where the Germans were murdering the remaining children and elderly.
On Friday [sic], 27th June 1943, I went with three other men, escorted by a Polish policeman, to bring food to the ghetto, because the kitchen was still functioning. The Small Ghetto looked as the aftermath to a bloody pogrom. Dozens of individuals lay killed in the streets and it was difficult to recognise them. On Garncarska, I saw a mother with a child pressed to her bosom. Both were dead.
The people in the ghetto told us that, in the Children's Home (Hachnoses Orchim), there was a mother with two children (Mrs Wajnrajch) and that, on our way back, we should throw a chunk of bread in for her. I therefore fell a bit behind, and brought them [a loaf of] bread. But the following day, a commission arrived on the premises where they were hiding, to take out the beds and medications. They were consequently found, taken out to the yard and shot.
Just a Little Water
A similar incident transpired on Sunday [sic], 29th June 1943. We went out with a large group to sweep the ghetto. At ul. Kozia 9, I entered a little wooden shack and I suddenly saw a cover [trapdoor?] being raised from the floor. A woman appeared. She told me she was hiding there with two children and that she was only asking for a little water, for they had food. There was water on the other street, but she was afraid to come out. We brought them water, but the Germans later caught them, and they were shot.
On Tuesday [sic], 30th June, I again worked on ul. Kozia. All of a sudden, shots rang out nearby. We went out and saw the Volksdeutsch Köstner holstering the two revolvers which he always carried with him. He came up to us and yelled, Throw this rubbish in a pit! We drew closer and saw three women and two men who were shot. We carried them down into the pit and, when I was already about to go back up, one of the men raised his head and told me that he was Rozenberg from Kłobuck and that we should let him lie till evening, when he would escape.
When we went out to the police station, which was on the same street, we saw a little girl of about seven years of age, who was walking along with a bundle of possessions in her arms, crying, Where is my mother? When the murderer Köstner noticed her, he approached the child, took her to the pit and, there, shot her.
I was horrified and I went off to another street, so that they would no longer take me for this work. But a Jewish policeman stopped me on ul. Nadrzeczna Street and, together with three other men, led me away to the Old StudyHall. There, a completely naked couple lay. We covered them up with some rag and brought them into JakÃ³b Hides' stable. Once inside, we found other corpses lying there, among whom was a boy of about ten.
On 1st July, we again went out into the ghetto, this time to ul. Garncarska. I went up to the first floor of an old house and, as I approached the wardrobe, a woman of about 45 fell out of it and began screaming, Save us! We have been already three days without food! In that same building, there was a bunker in which other people were hiding. Sadly, we were unable to help in any way. They later perished at the hands of the Germans, who threw handgrenades into the bunkers and houses.
The End of the Jewish Police
Standing in the street, we heard that the Jewish police had been brought together and taken away. Nobody knew where to, but it later turned out that they had been taken to ul. Garibaldiego. The Germans had wanted to ascertain whether the Jewish police would put up a fight and, once the Germans had become convinced that the policemen would remain peaceful, they were released then back into the ghetto, after four hours. But the joy was shortlived. On 3rd July 1943, the murderer Degenhardt ordered that the entire police force proceed to ul. Garibaldiego and, from there, to HASAG. The policemen spent the night at the mikvah [ritual bathhouse].
On 5th July 5, a command was issued that no one would be going to work anymore and that all should be prepared for an inspection in the street, next to the mikvah. In adherence to orders given, the workers, the policemen and the women were put into separate groups.
At twenty minutes past nine in the morning, the executioner Degenhardt arrived and called forth some of the painters, among them Abramowicz, Abram Norden, Okładek, Glezer [and] Kopiński, as well as a carpenter, a cobbler and some of the women. Once the fiend was done with the craftsmen, he turned to the policemen and told them that they had concluded their service and would, from then onwards, become workers in HASAG.
The policemen were conducted to the factory, where they were loaded onto freight vans and driven to the cemetery. There, they were all shot. Their wives shared the same fate.
A bizarre episode has remained engraved in my memory.
Four weeks after the akcja in which my father perished, I said Kaddish in the afternoon with Reb Jankel the Lame at Machzikei Hadas. Since it was forbidden to be out at night, we wished to pray Ma'ariv [the evening service] directly after Mincha [the afternoon service].
But part of the congregation argued, What's all this? It's still daytime!
At this point, Reb Jankel Melamed stood up, banged once on the table, and shouted out, Let us pray Ma'ariv already!
Once complete silence had fallen, Reb Jankel added, Just as the Master of the Universe does not care for us, so we too shall not risk our lives for Him.
The result was that we prayed Ma'ariv when it was still daytime.
In 1942, when I was sixteen, I worked at RakówHASAG, in the transport from the factory to the iron foundry. At the beginning of 1943, a youth of about eighteen joined me in my work and I discovered that he had been sent by the Partisans to organise a group of fighters and to take them to the woods. He, of course, wished to take me along as well, but I was together there with my brother, who alone remained of our entire family, and I did not wish to leave him. This young man sometimes left the work group through a secret passageway and I acted as his lookout.
Once, as I was exiting the bombshelter, the Jewish camp coordinator [viz. kapo] suddenly caught me. To his inquiries as to what I was doing there, I replied that my work tools were inside the bombshelter. He laughed and told me that he knew about the man in the bombshelter and that he would take me to the German officer.
I knew what fate awaited me, yet I had no option but to go with him. On the way, I met my brother and told him that I wanted to finish off the coordinator.
The kapo overheard our conversation and could not stop laughing. This made my blood boil, so I said to him, Look, I will be killed, but before they do so, I'll tell the Germans that you're hiding your little boy with Poles.
He blanched visibly, and denied everything. But from that moment on, he treated me differently. He took me to his room, told his wife to prepare whatever food I desired and began begging me to reveal the partisan's hiding place to him, because he had received orders from the German officer to bring the man to him, or ten other men would be executed.
I answered that I would not reveal the place, even if it cost me my life. Once he realised he would hear nothing from me, he transferred me to work as a cleaning attendant inside the camp, under his direct supervision, so that I should have no contact with the outside.
Between Burning Furnaces
One day, looking out the barracks window, I noticed the same German who, the previous day, had overseen the transport of railway carriages loaded full of people to some unknown destination. He halted by our barracks and began talking to himself out loud, Tell them first that we are taking the prisoners away or surround the camp with troops, so the Jews don't disperse?
I quickly ran to my brother, who was sleeping in the barracks after a day's work. I woke him up. We ran out and crossed the fence leading to the factory. I told anyone whom I met on the way what I had just heard and a few Jews joined us. We looked for a hidingplace and found one between the factory's two, huge furnaces. It was a narrow and dark place. The heat there was unbearable, for the furnaces were of red brick and their fires raged day and night. We all got burn marks from sitting in this shelter.
After several hours, we heard a tremendous booming of artillery and we knew the frontline was nearing. I decided to wait until the next day, but I fell asleep for a long time. When I awoke, my friends told me that several days had probably passed. I went outside with another lad to see what the situation was. On the way, we chanced upon a German who was a civil servant. He informed us that the time was three o'clock in the afternoon, 17th January. We asked him for news, but he did not wish to speak with us. I took up an iron rod and threatened him that unless he opened his mouth I would kill him! He fainted from the fright. I scooped up a handful of snow and smeared it in his face, to bring him to. When he revived, he began weeping and begging us to spare his life because he was just a clerk and had had no dealings with Jews. He told us that the Russians were coming and that he, himself, was looking for a place to hide. The German led us to the roof, from which we saw the Soviet army approaching in the distance.
We let the German go and, at that very instant, the Russians spotted us. They ordered us to come down from the roof, because they took us for Germans wanting to escape. We got down and, when we came closer, they saw that we were Jewish prisoners from the camp and allowed us to go freely on our way.
Jewish Częstochowa, which numbered about 35,000 souls, was renowned for its exemplary communal organisations and its wide cultural activity in its primary and secondary schools, in the cheders and yeshivas, in the Beis Yaakov schools for girls and in the technical schools, [institutions] in which thousands of children studied.
The city was blessed with hundreds of synagogues, shtieblech [and] studyhalls in which thousands of Jews worshipped and studied the Torah. They were engaged in Torah, [religious] precepts and good deeds day and night. These places served as spiritual centres for the multitudes of the House of Israel and were under the influence of the Chassidic Rebbes and the local rabbinate.
Despite the prohibitions, perils and the grave circumstances, the Jews of Częstochowa began organising in order to continue the ageold traditions. The schools functioned clandestinely. The yeshiva students continued studying in hiding and the synagogues were full of worshippers.
This, sadly, did not continue for long. From the very beginning, the Nazi invader began persecuting and arresting the city's Jewish leadership. The first victims also included the rabbis, who were detained in order to put pressure on the Jewish population and to extort vast sums of money as ransom. With [various] decrees, the Germans robbed the property of the Jews [and] impounded all the financial institutions, such as banks, charity funds, etc. which were in Jewish hands. The owners of factories and businesses were stripped of their assets and, in their places, trustees were installed [either] Germans or ethnically German Poles (Volksdeutsche). By these means, the Germans were able to quickly cut off the Jewish population's sources of livelihood and employment. The city's plight increased with the inflow of refugees, who came from different parts to Częstochowa, thinking that the situation in our city was better. In a short time, the city's Jewish population reached 60,000 and the overcrowding, as well as the poverty, became unbearable.
The Nazi invader was not content with stripping the Jews of their livelihoods and [imposing] forced labour, but also initiated terror operations against the Jewish spiritual centres. In the month of Kislev 5699 (1939), the New Synagogue on ul. Garibaldiego was set on fire. Refugees were housed in the majority of prayerhouses, shtieblech, synagogues and studyhalls. All the schools were closed and, due to the prohibition on public assemblies, public prayer entailed great dangers. Despite this, the Jews continued praying in private prayergroups and they put their lives at risk to organise their religious and cultural life. Instead of at the schools, which had been closed by German orders, the children studied Torah in lessons and sermons which were delivered before masses of Jews, who attended them to find solace in their words. The Rebbe of Pilica, the rabbi, righteous man and prodigy Reb Henech God Justman hyd, paid no heed to the emergency situation and continued teaching Torah and going every morning to his studyhall, despite the Germans having forbidden going outside in these morning hours. Until the year 5702 , secret meetings of the religious Jewry's leaders were held at the Pilcer Rebbe's dwelling, to plan charity events and prayer rallies to annul the Evil Decree. The mincha service for Yom Kippur Eve was prayed on a daily basis, with weeping and entreaties, recitation of psalms, etc.
Despite the forced labour which all men were required to do, a group of young Gerer Chassidim was organised. They dug themselves a cellar on ul. Przemysłowa and studied the Torah day and night, without going out to the street at all over a very prolonged period. At first, Reb Awrum Naftuli Horowicz hyd saw to their needs and, after his death, the writer of these lines took an interest in them. In all those years, these young men did not change their attire, cut their sidelocks off or shave their beards despite the perils this entailed.
One of the city's Torah scholars, Reb Szaja Lewenhof hyd, lectured at the Chevra Kadisha hall on the Halachic aspects of martyrdom and particularly on the booklet on this subject, which was received from the rabbi and prodigy Reb Aryeh Lajb Frymer hyd of Rożniatów, one of the deans of the Sages of Lublin Yeshiva.
The Book Committee
Following the liquidation of the Small Ghetto in Tamuz 5703 (1943), the few remaining people were taken to the HASAG camp. The conditions at the camp were unbearable. At first, all were forced to lay on the bare ground without any cover. The rations were limited to a portion of watery soup and 250 grams of bread.
The religious Jews could not enjoy this meagre allotment of food for fear that it may not be kosher. Labour at the camp was carried out in two shifts, day and night. Before work, in the early morning hours, and also after work in the evening, everyone was required to stand for roll call.
Discipline in the camp was extremely strict. The German foremen kept an eye on those workers who they deemed were not working with the required stamina and tortured them in various ways.
The Akcja at the HASAG Camp
On the eve of the 17th Tamuz 5703 [20th July 1943], the order was suddenly heard, Go outside! All the workers, both those who had worked day shift and were sleeping and those who were working, went outside, feeling scared. They were all put into rows and, whoever did not find favour with his foreman, was taken by him out of the row. About 300 labourers were placed in custody at the factory's police station and, that very same night, they were taken to the cemetery, where they were murdered and thrown into a large mass grave, which had been prepared in advance.
It was on that night that all the Jewish policemen with their families were also detained.
The German foremen struck them over their heads with sledgehammers and, while they were still stunned, loaded them onto freight vans. The victims were driven to the Jewish cemetery and, in a moribund state, they were thrown into a huge grave. Among the detainees was also the camp's Jewish leader [kapo?], Bernard Kurland, who acted as a proud Jew in the face of his killers. When he saw death before his eyes, he said to the Germans, The twelfth hour has already arrived for us, but for you too, the twelfth hour is very near.
Life in the camp continued with greater fear than ever, due to the beatings and death. Decree followed decree. Despite the circumstances and perils, the religious Jews would gather after work in the barracks and engage in Torah discussions from memory, for it was absolutely impossible to have a book. Each would encourage the other not to give up and not to lose confidence and faith. There were two pairs of phylacteries [tefillin] in the camp and the Jews would steal away in the course of the workday to put them on and to recite the Sh'ma [prayer]. There was great joy when a cobbler I think his surname was Propinator managed to smuggle a little Torah scroll into the camp and, from it, we would read on Shabbes and holidays after work.
One time, a German gendarme named Stieglitz came in the middle of the Torahreading and took the scroll away with him. But he returned it in exchange for a pair of shoes, to the great delight of the religious people, who were again able to read from the scroll. (This scroll was brought to Israel after many meanderings and is now in my possession. The scroll is read from almost every First of the Month at the [Gerer] shtiebel in BneiBrak.)
When the month of Nisan arrived, the religious Jews began seeing to matzes and, in fact, managed to obtain flour from Poles. The matzes were baked on an iron cooker between the beds, while someone stood outside as lookout. More than once, a German arrived in the middle of baking and the cooker had to be put out, so that the dough rose. The Seder on Pesach night was held between the beds, in scarceness and in squalor. Instead of wine, it was borscht, and instead of meat and fish, there were memories and tears. In the morning, when we said the Hallel [prayer of praise], some Jews rebelled and yelled at us, My creations are drowning at sea, and you wish to sing songs?
As the High Holidays drew near, we requested permission to hold prayer services, but this was denied. We gathered nevertheless and our prayer was accompanied by weeping and wailing.
On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, as evening approached, one of us (I think it was Dorfgang) managed to get hold of a shofar from outside the camp. The news spread throughout the camp and many Jews came to hear the sound of the shofar.
All Israel are Responsible, One for the Other
Over the course of time, a committee of religious Jews was created, headed by [Reb] Noach Edelist and Reb Jechiel Landau zl. They collected funds to succour the ill and infirm, who required food and medication to remain alive. Mrs Frajda Landau, the daughter of Reb Szymon Landau zl, and wife of Reb Jakób Landau, cooked for the patients lying in the camp hospital.
The work in the camp was backbreaking, especially for those who worked the night shift and were unable to rest during the day. On one of the winter nights, Abram Częstochowski (son of Reb Jakób Częstochowski) stole into the barrack before the end of the night shift and climbed up to his sleeping place on the third tier of the bunk bed. After just minutes, Bocke, one of the camp's police officers, entered the barrack and approached Reb Noach Edelist, who was then responsible for the barrack. The officer demanded he point out the hiding place of the man who had entered. Reb Noach, knowing what fate awaited the escapee, answered that no one had entered. For this reply, he received two slaps across the cheek and the officer threatened him with his pistol, saying he would kill him unless he revealed where the individual was. But, in the face of the danger, Reb Noach remained silent. When Abram Częstochowski saw what was happening, he sprang down from his bunk and stood before the German officer. Abram was taken to the police station and, after a terrible beating, was released.
Chanukah in the Camp
As Chanukah neared, the religious Jews began preparing Chanukah lamps, which was a life threatening project. The candelabras were made of shell casings found in the camp. The oil was taken from automobiles. When the first night of Chanukah came, the Jews gathered in the barracks.
We mentioned the Hasmoneans and told stories about them, comparing those days to the circumstances in the camp. As the candles were lit and the blessings recited, the weeping and sobbing of people remembering how they used to light the candles in their own homes in the presence of their family members, who had been murdered by the Amalekites, were heard. And thus they remained, glued to the lamps until the candles had blown out. We, of course, did not sing Maoz Tzur [Chanukah song] out loud. Even without singing, extreme vigilance was required because of the Germans.
It happened on the night of 25th December 1939, on which Christendom celebrates the birthday of their faith's creator, who preached love, fraternity and tolerance towards others.
On these nights of The Birth of God (Boże Narodzenie), the Jews even in prewar Poland - avoided going out on the street, so as not to provoke the religious sentiments of the Polish population, for the Polish antisemites sought every opportunity to incite the masses against the Jews. Much more so during the Nazi occupation, these spontaneous outbursts could lead to catastrophic consequences. Due to this and, also, because of the constant fear of the Germans' machinations, the Jewish population deemed it fit to confine themselves to their homes already on 24th December 1939, immediately after sundown, even though the police permitted being on the street in the early evening. Suddenly, on ulica Garibaldiego (formerly ulica Spadek), there was heard the clamour of wild Polish youth and yelling in German, directly followed by a hail of stones hurled at the windows of the Jewish houses. This was a sign of the forthcoming calamity. And, indeed, after the throwing of the stones, a multitude of Germans and Poles could be seen casting incendiary bombs into the synagogue. The flames engulfed the entire building, and quickly spread through the pews, the Holy Ark, the Torah scrolls, the chandeliers and all the other components of the house of worship.
And the synagogue, which had been the greatest pride of Jewish Częstochowa, Częstochowa Jewry's meeting place on holidays, the place which hosted the great Jewish poet Ch.N. Bialik [and] in which the renowned musician and composer Abram Ber Birenbaum operated and created went up in the flames that had been set by the fiends.
To this day, the screams and cries of despair of Fiszel (he perished during the transport in September 1942), the synagogue's cantor, when the flames drove him and his household from his home, still ring in my ears. He wept and lamented for the Destruction of the Częstochowa Temple.
Not only were the synagogue's religious paraphernalia burnt, but the library also. Just like the Jewish library next to the synagogue on ulica Tlomackie in Warsaw, so too was there a library next to our synagogue, in which both religious and secular literature found a place.
The Jews of Częstochowa, religious and secular, old and young, used to come to the library every evening to read, study, research and contemplate. There, they found spiritual repose after a gruelling day of labour. The library contained treasures of Jewish literature books and manuscripts donated by Jews from all corners of the world, melodies written by Abram Ber Birenbaum, which were absolutely unique documents.
There was the hazard of the fire spreading to the adjacent buildings, but the Germans took care to prevent this. Firefighters arrived at once with their equipment and tools, but their task was to prevent the fire from spreading to the neighbouring houses. To locate the source of the blaze inside the synagogue itself was no concern of theirs.
At twelve midnight (a symbolic hour), the synagogue's great tower, with the Star of David at its top, collapsed. At three o'clock after midnight, the fire died down. Partly extinguished cinders continued smouldering here and there, until the remains of the great synagogue were completely burnt down.
On the following morning, the Jews of Częstochowa gathered around the ruined synagogue, contemplating the German murderers' abominable handiwork their souls also wept for the sacrilege.
In 19411942, the author of these lines, together with Messrs Markowicz, Monhajt, Dawidowicz and Mic, attempted to save the remnants of the synagogues in different ways, for the Germans were not satisfied just with the burning. They wanted to completely demolish its partitioning and walls and to tear up the temple of the Jews by the roots. Only by the selfsacrifice of the aforementioned individuals, together with other residents for whom the synagogue was of importance, did they succeed in preventing this sanctified precinct's absolute destruction. Today, its walls are still standing, as a testament to the Częstochowa community's glorious past and as a mark of the hateful actions of the German killers, who are condemned to eternal infamy.
Like with adults, life in the ghetto developed in children a special sense for the perils waylaying them at each and every step [they took]. All smiles, all laughter, were suddenly switched off, when the footsteps of the Germans were heard. Once, kindergarten children were preparing in blatant defiance of destiny a play on the theme of Fraternity between Nations. The festive day came, which also happened to be Lilka's birthday. She wore her blue velvet dress. She danced, laughed, sang and was delighted.
And then, in the afternoon the shock! The command was given to go to the square outside the ghetto, with the ruse that certificates for emigration to Palestine had arrived. The people, in their naivety, went out to the square and Lilka was among them. From there, they were taken to the cemetery, where they were shot one after the other. On the orders of the Germans, the parents were shot first and then the children. After witnessing the death of her parents and siblings, Lilka begged the Gestapo officer, Let me live anyway! but in vain. The Gestapo officer, who committed this hideous murder, told of this detail himself. Not many days later, the rest of the kindergarten children were also taken, in trucks, to the Valley of Slaughter [an expression from Jeremiah 7:32].
The youth movements in the ghetto conducted regular activities in different manners. The Częstochowa branch of Gordonia, at that time, numbered about 150 members. Their activities took place in private apartments. Seminars were organised. All the dates connected to the movement were celebrated, such as 24th Shvat (the anniversary of A.D. Gordon's death), 15th Shvat, Purim and other events all this, of course, clandestinely, silently and in the underground.
We organised aid for our members' parents, by giving them additional coupons for the public kitchen. Another kind of aid constituted the packages of food which we received from Switzerland. Natan Sholba [?], who was living at the time in Switzerland, would send over all sorts of products cocoa, coffee or sugar. We would then sell them to wealthier Jews and support the needy with the proceeds.
The Beginning of the End
After some time, we established a training squad comprised of Gordonia members. We gathered the [Gordonia] members, who were among the refugees, who had been moved from their places [of origin]. We admitted them [into our group, and] clothed them, and they found their place amongst us. All together, we numbered about 200 organised members. The concern for others was exemplary.
During the long, winter nights of 1940, we read classical literature, sang, and even joked, as if we had forgotten that, outside, there reigned the horror of death.
And then came the blow. The night following the close of Yom Kippur in 1942, the streetlamps were lit despite the absolute darkness that was [usually] enforced and the end began. I ran to many friends, asking them what to do. But it was already too late. The streets were blockaded. Contact between us was discontinued. Our dreams turned to nothing.
In their desperate efforts to save themselves from the claws of death, people sought any sign of a foothold, any breach, any crack though which they could squeeze, in order to conceal themselves until wrath had passed and so that they could remain among the living.
What hiding places were not taken advantage of to conceal the body, what stratagems were not plotted and what inventions were not designed to this aim?
Cellars, bunkers, house pets' kennels, furniture and more and more even in sacks hanging on the wall. And, on this topic, the wellknown pedagogue Mrs Wajnrach, who even in these inhuman circumstances was engaged in teaching children, related an extraordinary incident:
As usual, we were toiling strenuously in HASAG, cleaning the large machines in the infantry department, whose function was the production of ammunition. The machines had not yet been activated for full production, but we were put to work at an early stage, to sap every drop of life from our bodies and our marrow. Days and nights, we laboured, battered and exhausted, as our lines consistently diminished, both as a result of natural dwindling when people died and through the murders perpetrated by the Germans at all kinds of different opportunities. Every German saw himself as master over our lives and as being entitled to do with us anything he wished. This was so in regards to all Jewish men and women, and with children even more so they were treated absolutely mercilessly. As a result, hardly any children remained with us, barring just a few. One of them was Łucja, my sister's daughter.
Among the Electrical Wires
All the workerslaves at the munitions factory lived in one great hall and my niece's existence was only semiovert. On the one hand, the Germans seemed to pay no heed to her presence although some precautions were taken in the form of disguising her to look older (a long raincoat, overgrown hair, etc.) but on the other hand, her life was in real danger every time they went out to seek victims from among the children. And here, one day, the rumour spread in a flash that the Kommando had gone out to hunt souls.
Łucja's parents my sister and her husband were so distraught, that they were rendered powerless and the principal burden of rescuing the child fell upon my own shoulders. My brain worked at a feverish pace to come up with a plan, because the time I had at my disposal was measured out [to me] with Scales of Destiny, on which were balanced Life and Death. At a certain point, my gaze fell on a compartment at the bottom of the machine on which I was working. This compartment was quite large and had the advantage of being almost empty, as the electrical wires passing through it only took up a small part of its volume. Without waiting too much, we crammed Łucja into this compartment, in which she remained curled up until the evening hours, when it was apparent the turbid wave had passed.
And another very tragic episode, which has remained etched into Mrs Wajnrajch's memory, brings her, even today thirty years later (!) to tears. This was when the Germans were driving freight vans full of children and the convoy happened to stop next to her. The children did not know exactly what was going to happen to them, but their hearts forebode evil. Seeing their teacher, whom they admired and looked up to as the highest authority who knows everything, they turned to her, crying for help and advice. She was powerless, paralysed, and could not even bat an eyelid, as she accompanied them, with an aching heart and a broken spirit, on their last journey.
People still remained in hiding inside the Big Ghetto and the carters, who cleaned out the dwellings, put their own lives at risk by concealing these people in their carts. They were covered with various objects and were driven into the Small Ghetto. Such was shown the commitment and affection of one person for another. This was particularly apparent in the cases of the elderly, the ailing, the infirm, the disabled, etc.
In a Sack on the Wall
The Germans displayed a particularly sadistic attitude towards the disabled miserable souls who had suffered since birth. Whenever they heard of such cases, they made every possible effort to find them.
They suddenly became aware that there was a hunchback in the Small Ghetto and began searching for him in a truly intensive manner.
One time, they conducted a very thorough search, and it became impossible to conceal him any longer. Someone then had the idea to put him in a sack and to hang the sack on a wall.
When he was given the sign that the Germans were approaching, he lay inside the sack without moving. They searched the very house where he was hanging on the wall and they noticed nothing.
But, when the ground began to burn under the feet, we took him out from there and brought him outside the ghetto. We put him in a little corner on the Polish side and covered him with a pile of corrugated metal sheets so that nothing [of him] could be seen. But we could no longer come to him afterwards and the hunger began to torture him more and more. Having no other option, he crawled out from beneath the pile, during the night, and shuffled over to a church, where he positioned himself as if he were a mendicant begging for alms. But this did not last long, for he was soon recognised.
The Germans took him away and immediately shot him.
The accepted version that people continuously repeat is that despite what one may expect poisons, gases, etc. had not been used in the Second World War. This, at least in regards to Jews, is untrue. First of all, there were the gas chambers in the death camps and the vehicles of death which the Germans deployed in different places for mass destruction.
But there were other operations in which the German oppressor made use of poisons. Immediately after the Nazis entered Częstochowa, on Bloody Monday, when they opened fire on the Jewish masses, they used poisoned ammunition, whose every hit even the slightest was fatal and caused an excruciatingly painful death.
I personally witnessed two cases of people who were hit by German fire, in my own courtyard, and were only slightly injured one's ear was grazed and the other, his toe. These scratches were nevertheless enough to bring these people great suffering which, after several days, caused their demise.
Following the five operations, during which 35,000 Jews were deported from our city, the ghetto became emptied. The houses were left deserted and the shops closed. From the window of my secondstorey flat [at the Craftsmen's House], I saw guards patrolling the ghetto streets. Their task was to prevent the Polish population from looting the belongings that were left behind in the homes by their deported Jewish tenants. Hauptmann Degenhardt ordered that a new ghetto be set up, smaller than the previous one, in order to contain the Jews who still remained after the operations. He assigned the Chairman of the Judenrat to establish a new Judenrat, smaller than the first, and he ordered the Chief of Police's deputy to make a police force from the remaining fifty Jewish constables.
All the slave labourers from the factories and all those in quarantine the doctors and their families, the nurses, and the entire hospital management needed to be brought to the New Ghetto.
Hauptmann Degenhardt chose three narrow, filthy alleys, without running water or sewers, and ordered the freshly organised Jewish representation to establish the new ghetto here. Under the supervision of the Jewish police, Jewish workers erected tall posts around the three ghetto streets/alleys, every three or four metres, and enclosed them with barbed wire. A wider space was left open for a gate. Thus, the New Ghetto was established.
The Judenrat reorganised the swift activists assigned to each his position and they proceeded to their activities. The Judenrat allocated lodgings for six to eight people per room or for three or four families together. Furniture was also distributed old, broken tables and chairs as anything that was still fit for use was removed by the Germans and transferred to their warehouses. A kitchen was set up, to which the municipal authorities allocated products and the life of wretchedness renewed its course.
During the cleaning operations in the New Ghetto, people found hidingplaces from which Jews emerged men, women and children, who had been living in these hideouts in appalling conditions. But, they had endured nevertheless. They had the luck to be inside the ghetto again, where they would live amongst Jews.
They still needed to hide from Degenhardt and his gendarmes who came here, but it was easier for them anyway. Death no longer hovered above their heads as it had done previously and, besides, they would receive food here and would be able to wash. Nonetheless, the corpses of those who had not endured the terrible conditions were also taken out of the hiding places and, among them, there were also children who had died or who had been suffocated so as to not betray their presence by crying.
People, whose food had run out, began to emerge from bunkers onto other streets. The Germans shot them the instant they were noticed. When the emergence from the bunkers began to take on en masse characteristics, Degenhardt ordered that these people be concentrated on ul. Katedralna. This aroused concerns that Hauptmann Degenhardt was organising a new akcja.
And indeed, several days later, he ordered the deportation of eight hundred Jewish souls, who had been gathered in the collection point, to Radomsko. After this place was emptied of its Jews, Degenhardt instructed that anyone found in a bunker should be shot on the spot. From then on, each day brought new victims.
From Ghetto to Labour Camp
The Small Ghetto, as people called it, did not exist very long. The name ghetto was changed to Judenarbeitslager [Jewish Labour Camp]. In this labour camp, as well as in the Craftsmen's House at Aleja 14, the marks of disgrace were abolished the white bands with the Star of David on the right arm. However, simultaneously, people's names were also abolished and each person received a tin plate with a number engraved on it, which one was required to wear on one's chest. This measure depressed and humiliated the Jews even further.
At the beginning of December 1943 [sic; 1942 in the original], Degenhardt ordered all the Jewish doctors to present themselves in the former ghetto's large square. This order made the doctors anxious, but all came to the appointed location at the specified hour. Degenhardt stood in front of them and told them that there were many Jews in Radomsko and a lack of doctors there. The authorities there had, therefore, requested that six doctors from the Częstochowa labour camp be sent to them. And seeing as how, Degenhardt said, there were too many doctors here, he would send six of them there.
Of course, he asked no one if they desired to travel, but chose the delegates himself and notified them that they and their families were to make ready to travel to Radomsko within a few days. During the conversation with them, Degenhardt was extremely polite and he smiled unceasingly, remarking that, in three weeks' time, they would be grateful to him for having sent them to such a good place.
Naturally, no one asked why in exactly another three weeks it would be so good for them.
Several days later, Degenhardt exchanged two of the six doctors intended for translocation. People said that the Judenrat's hand was probably in this, because the consensus was that it was better to stay put than to travel far away to meet an unknown fate.
The doctors were sent off in midDecember. With their families, they presented themselves in the square, where a freight lorry already awaited them. The Judenrat came out to bid them farewell and gave them warm clothing. The remaining doctors and other people stood behind the barbedwire fence and accompanied the travellers with teary eyes. While everyone had a sense of foreboding of what was to come, Degenhardt appeared again in the square and repeated his words that, in three weeks, the doctors would be grateful to him.
The residents of the Craftsmen's House were not allowed to leave the premises, but if someone required medical assistance, he was permitted to apply to the Chief of Police's deputy, who lived in the same building, upon which he would be escorted by a Jewish policeman to the labour camp and back. Additionally, the residents of the Craftsmen's House were allowed to visit their family members at the labour camp once a week on Sundays.
After each such visit to relatives in the labour camp, the people returned broken and depressed. I also wanted to see the labour camp once, so one afternoon I set out with the others towards this camp.
In the Labour Camp
We went in twos, [each pair] escorted by a Jewish policeman ten people in all. We walked in the centre of the road [as horses do], trudging through the mud. Polish passersby looked into our eyes. Acquaintances no longer greeted us, but smiled from a distance. Antisemites mocked us and accompanied us with unrepeatable insults. Youths particularly excelled in this they ran after us, shouting insults and curses [not only at us, but] also at the Jewish constable.
So, we walked along the long ul. Wilsona until its end, where we entered the former ghetto's first street, which is called Krótka. There, we saw a horrifying image. The windows of the houses in which the Jews had lived not long ago stood open, the window panes were broken and the frames hung only halfattached to their hinges. The wind whistled through the rooms, blowing the rainsoaked curtains far inside. From within, we heard doors slamming back and forth. The ghostly winds cast their terror over the entire area, as it were. The gates of the houses were wide open and, as we passed by and gazed intently inside, we could see belongings strewn about in the courtyards pieces of broken furniture, family photographs, and religious books. In the central entrances, were pots, bowls and other crockery. Some shops had been broken into and the remnants of merchandise lay strewn about. It was obvious that the shops had been looted and stripped of their contents.
Thus our group of ten, escorted by a Jewish policeman, passed through the streets of our city, where thousands of Jews had once lived, where effervescent Jewish life had thrived, with each open window reminding you of an acquaintance or of a friend. And now, all was deserted.. We did not see a single living soul!
We passed the square called the Small Warsaw Market, and, again, we saw empty, deserted houses. We continued walking until we came to the labour camp our intended destination and stopped in front of a large gate at which stood a Wachtmeister [police constable], as they call them in German. He was tall and rosycheeked and, upon seeing us, asked, Who are these loafers? to which the Jewish policeman replied that he was escorting ten men from the Craftsmen's House to the doctor. In these proceedings, we found out that this Wachtmeister was the manager of the labour camp and that the Jewish policemen held him in high esteem. He was happy to socialise with some of them, even to the extent of clinking glasses or breaking bread together. This, however, did not stop him from shooting Jews at every opportunity and dispensing beatings for the merest trifle. We entered through the large gate, on the outside of which a Polish policeman stood, whereas on the inside stood a Jewish one.
I began walking along one of the three narrow alleys and I chanced upon various Jewish policemen, who eyed me with suspicion, as if wanting to say, What are you doing here?
I then met a Jewish policeman with whom I was acquainted. He warned me that, according to the present regulations, no Jew was permitted to be out in the street from five in the morning to five in the evening, because everyone was required to be at work. Only those working in the factories at night were permitted on the streets of the labour camp in the daytime. These people wore special yellow bands on their arms with the inscription night shift. If someone was caught without the yellow armband they killed him!
The constable added that Hauptmann Degenhardt himself came here often, roaming the streets and searching for victims. He ordered houses to be opened and checked for anyone who might be hiding. On one occasion, he found two young people in a flat one was a night shift worker and the other was ill and was unable to go to work that day. Degenhardt ordered that the night worker be taken to the German guard and that the second be executed.
It was three o'clock in the afternoon and I, therefore, waited at my policeman acquaintance's lodgings till five, to go out on the street. His flat was in a building which was reserved exclusively for Jewish policemen. They lived there with their families, each family in a separate room. The more respected ones had two rooms. The policemen's wives were exempt from labour and they were permitted to have their children openly with them. (This was a special right.) But all were very concerned regarding the future. Every mother sought ways to send the children over to the Aryan side, as they had a feeling that, sooner or later, children would no longer be tolerated in the labour camp. Degenhardt would not allow anyone who was not working to live there. Moreover, they did not believe that even those working would be permitted to live long. There was a general feeling of scepticism concerning the labour camp's fate.
Suddenly, I heard a faint noise from behind the door. A woman exited the room and immediately returned, accompanied by a man, to whom she said, Father, you can stay here. This Jew (pointing at me) is an acquaintance of ours from the Craftsmen's House. I was quite taken aback hearing the woman address the man as father, for I had known the woman's father for a long time. It was very difficult for me to recognise him, as he had changed beyond recognition. Before the War, he had been the Viceprezes of the Jewish Kehilla in Częstochowa, a Jew of about sixty, with a large beard. He had had a haberdasher's store in one of the city's best neighbourhoods. Now, I saw him in front of me clean shaven. His grey hair was dyed black and his figure seemed to have shrunk. With teary eyes, the man told me that he was there with his wife. They had lain hidden in a cellar for entire days and nights and could no longer bear the suffering and tribulations. I wished to see his wife as well and, therefore, waited until darkness fell. The daughter then went down and brought her mother up into the room. She entered quietly. We have to be careful even of our own Jews, she said gloomily.
She knew me at once. I, however, had to look carefully to recognise her as the comely and charming woman she had once been. She confessed that she had already grown weary of life for all the troubles and sorrow, but she persevered only because her daughter desired it. The two elderly folk then burst into tears. They lamented at not having gone together with all the other Jews to Treblinka. Their soninlaw, the policeman, had made all possible efforts to conceal them in all sorts of holes, hidingplaces in cellars and attics. He had transferred them from place to place, from door to door, had bribed gendarmes to save them, until he brought them here to the New Ghetto, the current labour camp. It was impossible to obtain lodgings for them, because they were living there illegally and did not have numbers. They were, therefore, compelled to conceal themselves and to live in constant fear, for they were convinced that they would eventually fall into the murderers' hands.
It was already quite dark when I went out into the street. The labour camp's alleys were [poorly] lit. I unexpectedly met an acquaintance who had been a conductor of the TOZ choir. We were both glad that we had remained alive and he invited me to his lodgings. On a specific stretch of the alley along which we were walking, we heard Jews loudly crying, Meat for sale! Fresh bread! Rolls, bagels, sausage, herring, sugar, liquor!
As I approached them, I saw they were the same workers from the factory who, upon their return from work, had become traders. They brought the merchandise from the Aryan side, which they had bought or received in barter for garments they had given and, here, they were selling them. The prices were rather high. We entered a spacious courtyard, climbed hills, passed through holes in fences, winding paths and back doors. Every few steps, a Jew stood and whispered to the buyers what was available today. They were very vigilant, in case someone should come along, who needed to be avoided. On the day of my visit, small sausages were available. Clients went in and out. Everything transpired quietly and cautiously. For the production of sausage, one received the death penalty, but conditions were so bad that they were willing to take the risk, because life was constantly in peril anyway. In another alley, Jews were selling garments trousers, coats, underwear, etc. These were items that had been gathered from deserted Jewish houses and taken to the large warehouses on ul. Garibaldiego. The people's belongings were sorted by Jews, who worked like slaves. To stay alive, these slave workers people who at home had received the best upbringing risked their lives by stealing things, putting them on when they left work. Thus, they put their lives in peril on a daily basis, by stealing Jewish clothes from the Germans.
I went up to my friend's roomandahalf accommodation. As soon as I entered, my attention was drawn to the seven beds that were set up there some iron and others wooden, old some were propped up with planks. Four women hung about there it was very crowded. As there were not enough chairs to go around, they mainly sat on the beds. One young man was lying in bed. I inquired whether he was ill, to which the sick man himself replied, "There's nothing wrong with me. I lie in bed out of boredom". He was also surprised that I did not recognise him. I looked closer at him a haggard countenance, a skull cap on his head, but I could not recognise him at all. Seeing my struggle to place him in vain he blurted out, I am the city Chazan [cantor] or I was.
Upon hearing this, I was startled! Is this our Chazan, with the great beard and broad features who, on his way to the synagogue every Friday, used to walk through the Jewish neighbourhood so erect and proud? How changed the man had become, one cannot imagine he had truly become a different person.
I did not ask him what had been the fate of his family, not wishing to reopen wounds, but he himself began telling me, I have become a bachelor, he said bitterly. His wife, with their seven children, had been deported. Now he must look young he was recorded here as a 25year old. His beard was shaved off and he has become very thin. Suddenly, it was as if he had awoken from a slumber. Then he sat up in bed with a jerk, his face reddened as if blood had been poured into it. Clenching his fists, he yelled [wildly], The murderers! They've made me young! Turned me into a bachelor! Annihilated my seven children! Murdered my wife! His rage caused him to tear out of the bed. He dressed hurriedly, tearing his coat in so doing. He then sat down at the table, alternately standing up and sitting down again he simply could not find his place.
My friend winked at me, hinting that I should change the subject of our conversation so as to take his mind off the great pain and to soothe him a little. I attempted to do so, but in vain. He was unable to conquer his grief. He paced back and forth, speaking as if to himself, I go every day to work I'm a slave. I work in a factory. To what end? Why am I still alive to be a slave for the Germans?
A few of the other household members sat down at the corner of the table and set down bread on it. At the other end of the table, another couple was eating. The chairs were given, in turn, to those sitting down to eat. In all, four couples and four bachelors lived here. During the daytime, they were all at work both men and women and, in the evening, they returned here, bringing with them their soup and chunk of bread [from the soupkitchen] and whoever had any money bought himself other things in the street.
My acquaintance, the choir conductor, a very dear man, told me that his wife and children had been deported and that he had remained all alone. He had grown weary of his life and would end it but had not the courage to do so.
I then remembered that, at seven o'clock, I had to be at the exit of the labour camp in order to go home with my group. But it was already later and I scrambled to leave as quickly as possible. When I came to the barbedwire fence, I learned my group had left about half an hour before. I was therefore left with no other option but to spend the night in the labour camp and to leave at dawn with a group of labourers going to work.
It was permitted to be out on the street until nine o'clock. As I walked in the street, I met several other acquaintances, whom I told about the tense situation I had gotten into. One of them took me home with him and arranged a place for me to sleep on the floor, saying that, for one night, one could sleep even in that manner.
I entered a large room in which six people lived, three men and three women. Young women, who had remained without their husbands, and men, who had remained without their wives. They had decided to get married and live together, for the loneliness was hard for them [to bear].
Each of them had experienced great misfortune, but the drive to live is great and one seeks a way to survive. I saw a young and attractive woman who, before the War, had lived with her husband and two children in a magnificent villa. Now she was living in this flat with her partner and six other people. During the day, they were at work and, in the evening, she cooked the food. They occupied onethird of the room, which was partitioned off with some sort wardrobe made of planks and, inside their section, was but one piece of furniture a bed. In another corner, my acquaintance lived with a girl who had been orphaned during an akcja. He had had a wife and two children and, being a policeman, he had been able to conceal his family for some time. But, during an akcja, when he was on duty, a gendarme found her and conducted the family to the railway carriages. Now, he had married the young lady. The third corner of the room was occupied by a young man with his wife. The man was a general labourer [without any specialty]. His wife and child had been deported during the third akcja. He then married his wife's sister, who had remained all alone. This young man earned more than the others living with him. He had become a carter and he transported the belongings from the [former] ghetto to the warehouses on ul. Garibaldiego. He therefore had the opportunity to conceal all sorts of items, which he then brought home and gave to those living with him to sell. In exchange for the items, they brought him money or goods which they traded for them.
The three couples eat well, drink alcohol, and smoke. They wish to forget what was and not think what will be.
In another corner of the room stood a cooking range, which everyone used and, in the centre of the room, stood a large table surrounded by chairs that were also for collective use.
They told me of rumours that the Germans would soon be conducting another akcja, for Degenhardt had been heard saying that he was aware of people and children who were hidden in the labour camp. But this information is not conclusive.
When I sat at the table with these people, it seemed as if we were dining normally albeit in a primitive manner, but comfortably. But in truth, this was only an appearance. Deep in each of their hearts, a heavy stone pressed, not ceasing to torture them for one instant. With the first tots of liquor, tears welled in the corners of their eyes, and streamed increasingly stronger, until the women were weeping disconsolately.
Why are you crying?, the new husband asked his new wife, who had lost her two children in the akcja. The woman stood up from her place, walked stumblingly and fell onto the bed crying miserably. Where are my children now?, she screamed hysterically. At the word children, the others also began weeping and, soon, sorrow and bereavement pervaded the entire room. The food [roasted goose] remained unconsumed, [the liquor was not drunk] and the depression and tears continued for a long while, until everyone turned towards their corners including myself and went to sleep for the night.
In the morning, I went to the assembly point for the workers and joined a group which was going in the direction of the Craftsmen's House.
As Russia pushed steadily westwards, the Germans took us further away from the front. After a couple of days in Buchenwald, we were sent in crowded railway carriages to Mauthausen. After five days of travel, we were allowed off the carriages. People walked on all fours and ate grass.
Following a journey of seventeen days, we arrived in Mauthausen and were conducted directly to the crematorium. I still had ten dollars left and I was able to buy bread. But, as soon as I took the bread in my hand, everyone attacked me and they snatched it away from me. I only managed to catch a chunk of the bread in my mouth, which I brought to my brother and placed directly into his mouth. I told him that they had torn up my loaf, to which he said that they too were hungry, poor fellows.
Standing, from left to right: M. Goldberg, M. Gonszerowicz, Sz. Kaminski, Ch. Najman
Lying from left to right: Sz. Manźes, L. Ocheman [? אכימאן ]. In centre: L. Blumenfeld.
Until the morning, we sat by the crematorium which, luckily for us, was unable to take us in, due to a breakdown.
The conditions there were so horrific that for us, Częstochowers, it was the worst concentration camp which we had been forced to endure.
And then, all of a sudden, just when we thought the end had already come on the 5th of May, 1945, at eleven o'clock before noon a prisoner ran in yelling that an American vehicle had entered the camp and we were liberated!
What a ruction ensued! We wept and screamed with joy! No one could laugh, as we had already not laughed for five years.
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