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Resistance and Rebellion


The monument that was erected in commemoration of the warriors of Częstochowa, who
risked their lives for the honour of their people, and who fell in combat against the Nazi enemy.


[Pages 181-184]

The Struggle of the Częstochowa Jews

Szlojme (Stefan) Grajek

The inhabitants of the Częstochowa ghetto and the [Zionist] pioneering youth there in particular, have written a glorious page with their struggle to uphold the honour of the [Jewish] People and to be in constant defence against the Nazi enemy.

The Częstochowa ghetto is in the same category as the ghettos in which the fighting force, the readiness for battle and the will for rebellion beat in the hearts of the youth trapped within its walls. Almost never for even one day did the [Jewish] Fighting Organisation in Częstochowa cease its clamour for revenge and self–protection. This, however, was not always granted them, for the Germans' cunning would catch the members of the Jewish Fighting Organisation unawares, with sudden surprises, causing them heavy losses.

The partisans from the Częstochowa ghetto, who went out to the woods around Koniecpol in order to continue the fight against the Germans, also sacrificed needless victims who fell at the hands of the antisemitic Polish partisan units affiliated with the N.S.Z. (Narodowe Siły Zbrojne; [National Armed Forces] the nationalist antisemitic faction of the “A.K.”).

Despite these great challenges, the members of the Fighting Organisation in the ghetto displayed extraordinary courage and self–sacrifice, both in active resistance and in organising the population to passive resistance.

When the second “Akcja” took place on 4th January 1943, the Jewish Fighting Organisation (ŻOB) had just one pistol and the organisation was not yet ready for action.

Nevertheless, two fighters – [Mendel] Fiszlewicz and Izio [Icchok] Fajner – were daring enough to fall upon S.S. officers Roon and Zoppart, when they stood in the square of the deportations to the death camps, together with the multitudes of Częstochowa Jews.

During the entire course of the War, communication was maintained between Warsaw and Częstochowa. This was mainly in the hands of Rywka Glanc, who travelled often to Warsaw to receive aid, obtain information of events in the different occupied territories and to transmit the Underground's journalism, to serve as instructive material for operations. She was, as they [rightly] called her, “The Mother of the Ghetto,” inasmuch as the care she took of the group in Częstochowa, the ŻOB and the youth in general. She was the “driving force” in organising the groups of combatants.

At the start of 1943, when Rywka brought news from Warsaw regarding the preparations for armed self–defence, once the annihilation of the majority of the Jewish population in Poland had become known, a hastened search for armaments began and the members of the Fighting Organisation in Częstochowa started producing hand–grenades and stockpiling explosives.

Mojtek [Mordechai] Zylberberg, the ŻOB Commander, and Zvi [Hersz] Wiernik were active in procuring explosives and in setting up a laboratory for the production of grenades, which were stored in the Organisation's bunker. Inside this bunker, a tunnel was dug to the Aryan side, by which to escape outside the ghetto following the battle. The hand–grenades were produced with materials that were available in the German factories in Częstochowa and which were smuggled out by the Jewish workers. Molotov cocktails were made following plans given by the ŻOB Central in Warsaw, which were transferred through contacts.

The debate that was being held in many ghettos – whether to stay [and fight] or to join the Partisan Movement in the forests – also persisted in the Częstochowa ghetto. The ŻOB walked both paths – preparation for a confrontation with the Germans inside the ghetto, as well as sending groups into the woods.

On 25th June 1943, Marek Folman arrived in Częstochowa from Warsaw, as an emissary to organise and carry the uprising in the ghetto through. At a meeting of all the Organisation's members, he spoke of the rebellion in the Warsaw ghetto, its liquidation and on the ways to continue the struggle.

At the close of this meeting, the Germans entered the ghetto in preparation for its liquidation. The members of ŻOB were trapped by the S.S., who surrounded the bunker.

Mojtek, the ŻOB Commander, who was in the bunker wounded, was able to swallow a pill of potassium cyanide, thus committing suicide. Rywka Glanc and Marek Folman, together with other members, succeeded in passing through the tunnel to the Aryan side, but were discovered by Germans as they were escaping, upon which a skirmish ensued. Marek hurled a grenade at them and was able to escape. Rywka fired several shots with her pistol and then fell, shot by the Germans.

One German was killed in the fight and several were injured.

Following the defeat in the bunker, when the members of the organisation were left without weapons, the decision was made to transfer a group of people outside the ghetto in order to join the partisans in the woods. However, only a handful made it to the forests, for the most of them were killed on their way there. At the HASAG–Pelcery and HASAG–Raków [labour] camps, the members of ŻOB continued their underground activities, in the face of hunger, sickness and death, both by organising aid in the form of money and food and by sabotaging the German production. Coordinators from Warsaw visited these camps – Władka Peltel did this several times. Contact was also maintained with the group of combatants in Koniecpol. This group passed through the Seven Gates of Hell in seeking ways to join the partisans in the forests, in preparing a location where to receive the ŻOB members from the ghetto, in ensuring refuge with Polish farmers and in providing for the members' physical necessities.

Whilst they were successful in establishing the first contact with the Poles in Koniecpol, who were understanding and supportive, the fighters suffered many casualties at the hands of the nationalist Polish, antisemitic partisans, who continued doing Hitler's deeds, by killing every Jew they came upon.

Another hideous murder came from the side which we least expected.

In the summer of 1943, a coordinator named Krzaczek[1] (from the PPR [Polska Partia Robotnicza; Polish Workers' Party]) came to the fighters in Koniecpol. Back in May, he had helped transfer the remaining fighters from the Warsaw ghetto to the Łomianki woods. He [now] offered to go purchase weapons and the group entrusted him with the money they had [for this]. Together with him went a member of the fighters' group – Icchok Windman (“Lala”). He never returned. It was later discovered that Krzaczek had murdered Lala in one of the groves near Radom, taken the money and then disappeared. The Polish Underground issued a death warrant for the killer Krzaczek.

From the Central in Warsaw, we maintained contact with the group in Koniecpol and, with its aid, also with the [labour] camps in Częstochowa. In 1943, the group was visited by Władka Peltel, Frumka Płotnicka, Chawka Folman, Leizer Geller, Tosia Altman, Arie[2] Wilner (“Jurek”) and Symcha Rotem[3] (“Kazik”).

Seeing as how our connection with the survivors in Częstochowa, who were among the most active of all the ghettos, had been interrupted following the Polish Warsaw Uprising in August 1944, our greatest concern was to renew this connection and to maintain it consistently.

In the winter of 1944, we managed to renew the connection, when I joined the ŻOB coordinator Marysia Sawicka, a Pole who worked together with us in Warsaw during the whole duration of the War. This Marysia used to procure shelter for all our emissaries and would risk her life daily to visit the group of combatants who were hiding at farmer Hajdas' in Secemin village, by the Koniecpol woods.

I knew that the group needed encouragement [and] news of current events, besides the monetary aid that the coordinator was to bring them. By various modes of transportation, on the train (as a Pole) and a long journey filled with adversity on a farmer's cart, we arrived at the Hajdas house in Secemin village. They were expecting us, as Marysia had informed them in advance. The farming family therefore awaited us at home, without any fear.

For a long while, we waited inside the house to ensure that we had left no trace of our journey and that no one was approaching from outside.

When we went down to the group of fighters' hidden bunker, the joy was great. The members even prepared us a “Welcome” in Hebrew, as a sign of their happiness and anticipation.

We talked with them of those who had fallen and of the remaining survivors. I told them about the continuation of our aid operations for those in the camps and in hiding on the Polish side. They lapped up every bit of news, especially regarding the Land of Israel.

The combat group wished to continue the struggle against the Germans, but the inability to act immediately and the hostile anti–Jewish surroundings in particular, left no choice but to await liberation, if it came in time, without adding victims from among the remaining survivors. Before we parted company, we established the guidelines for our communication into the future.

Two months later, on 16th January 1945, when the Soviet army entered, the group was liberated, together with the handful of Jews who had remained alive in the [labour] camps in Częstochowa.

Translator's footnotes:

  1. Nom de guerre; his real name was Władysław Gajek. Return
  2. Real name Izrael Chaim. He had two pseudonyms – “Arie” (Heb.; “Lion”) and “Jurek.” Return
  3. Born Szymon Rathajzer. Return

[Pages 185-188]

The Beacon of Fire in the Dead of Night

Ajzik Diamant

Already, much has been told of this period but, in my opinion, not enough. This has not yet been done in its entire scope and I am quite convinced that, one day, some “Spiritual Giant” will arise, and not necessarily from among those who actually witnessed those events, who will contrive to gather all the archived materials and publish them, with all the conclusions thereof.

Whereas today [viz. 1968], logic dictates that one, setting about to write of these bygone days, ought to take his mind back to his emotions during those times and attempt to relive – and to revive – them.

And what is the image of terrors and horrors that appear before his eyes? Darkness – overcast skies enshroud the tortured Earth – all around are signs of a vast inferno, the flames of which have consumed everything.

Where once bustling civic centres had been and not a wide–open space of empty fields, a man walks with his head cast down and his arms hanging limply to the sides. He lifts his feet and marches, pace after pace, searching among the ruins for any trace of his lost days. He finds the life of a graveyard.

He bends over clusters of flowers, deeply inhaling their potent perfume and, with a light caress, picks them – the flowers which have grown here, despite everything. This place, which his feet tread heavily upon, had been destined exclusively for the eradication of all living things, for total ruin and annihilation. In a place such as this, it was impossible to conceive a concept of rebellion, except only in order to die a more honourable death – and a less humiliating one – but by no means in order to gain freedom towards life.

With all the responsibility of one who lived through those circumstances, and now that I am out of the oppressing darkness, in the light of day, where the sun again shines and warms and instils hope in the continuation of life and after a twenty–year–long period of being free, if I am required to give myself an answer to the question: How did it happen that my people went to their own destruction? I shall clearly state that, deep inside the narrow ghettos, to which the multitudes of Jews were consigned prior to their complete physical annihilation, normal human life no longer existed.

The accursed Germans succeeded in that their demented “idea” of a “Master Race”. It made the entire German people lose their minds and they all believed that God had destined them to rule, to implement the loathsome and ghastly “German Order” throughout the entire world.

The nations, which experienced the same bitter tribulations under the German boot, were also unable to do anything.

After the Jews, they would have annihilated the Poles and the rest of the Slavic peoples and all those whose right to live was not “justified” by the “Master Race”.

But nonetheless, in darkness and humiliation, in the raging sea of destruction, in which there was not the smallest crack through which could surge forth our will for rebellion, the match was lit.

It should also be made clear that we had no connection with events “outside”, and that the people outside also lived under the black boot of German terror. Besides the fact that the Jews did not have many true friends, the majority looked on with apathy at what was being done to us and only a few put their lives in jeopardy to save that which could be saved.

And then, in spite of everything, regardless of the lack of even the slightest power and on the brink of the gaping abyss of perdition and utter extinction, a gust of mighty and bracing wind brought us back and, with a great impetus, we were put once again on our feet.

This was the awakening of the force which arose and manifested itself. This minute particle – the smallest of the small – that yet remained in the battered, broken body which was indifferent to what was done with it – almost dead – stood up to prove its resolve to do battle!

The Jewish Fighting Organisation (ŻOB) arose and returned the humanity to those who were unwilling to accept the Germans' verdict – which was humiliation and death – and blew into them the “Breath of Life”.

These wonderful people – with the very fact that they embraced the cause of rebellion – constituted within the camp, inside the ghetto – the side in opposition to the men of the Judenrat, who to the last moment disseminated false illusions and whose only purpose was to save themselves through collaboration.

Among the fighters were the remnants of the youth movements and the different political parties. A group of student youth joined them also, a youth which had matured before its time. Each and every one of them was prepared to sacrifice his life at any moment and to die honourably.

In this darkness, they were the beacon of fire illuminating the path to organisation and struggle, even if the purpose be a dignified death. These children, who just yesterday had been under the protection of their parents and had now remained on their own, began to unite with their own age group, to resist the enemy by force. They, these defenceless little ones, became the source from which the adults drew.

During that same terrible period, an extremely sad, but very illustrative event took place. The people at the head of Jewish public affairs, who had been elected as representatives before the War, were quickly broken and they had not the vigour and courage to stand in the breach in times of trouble. Others, who were appointed in their place, began cooperating with the Germans by facilitating the work of extermination.

The ŻOB, which arose and became a reality, operated inside the ghetto in an almost hostile environment. The Elders, who were seasoned public figures, cautioned and warned, “Do nothing”. They accused the youth of being irresponsible and lawless, which was prone to bring catastrophe and annihilation upon the general public.

Nevertheless, despite all the external and internal obstacles, this handful of chosen youngsters became the factor to heal the surroundings. The Fighting Organisation gradually became the address for those imprisoned inside the ghetto. The members of the Judenrat, who had started to fear for their own safety, considered no means too despicable to use in order to break it. The organisation was therefore forced to take drastic measures, to carry out preventive operations, to protect itself. It issued death warrants against Jewish informers, who even infiltrated the organisation's groups. To our sorrow, the ŻOB was unable to thoroughly clear all these negative and base elements, which would later come back to haunt them when they were put to test. Due to the denunciations, the Germans discovered the existence of the organisation.

One of the largest and most important works, which took long months of dedication and self–sacrifice, with superhuman efforts, was digging a tunnel connecting the ghetto to the “Aryan side” and building the central bunker which contained the arsenal.

All these plans fell into the hands of the Germans due to informing. And it happened that, when the organisation was already functioning in an orderly manner and was preparing dozens of combat units for the days they would be tested, at the time it had begun to purchase armaments and produce its own hand–grenades, and the herculean efforts had begun to bear fruits, the Germans delivered the devastating blow, when the detailed plans of the bunker fell into their hands.

On the other hand, it was impossible to retain all the members conscripted, because the majority of the ghetto's inhabitants went daily to work outside the sealed ghetto and, for our organisation, things were at a stage when it was still too early to arouse suspicions by not going out to work, which was liable to result in annihilation.

When the Germans took us by surprise, there were just a handful of people in the bunker. The Commander of the ŻOB – Mojtek – lay in bed with high fever. The Germans threw many grenades into the passages [and] blew up the arsenal. [But] as stated, most of the combatants were outside the ghetto at the time. The fighters' last desire, their dream to engage in open battle with the Nazi beast with weapons in their hands, was not fulfilled. We were unable to execute the will of our murdered brothers, friends, and parents, whose lips, in their final moment, murmured the last word – Revenge!!!

[Pages 189-196]

Fortitude of Spirit

Yeshayahu [Szaja] Landau




More than once, the bitter lament emerges in the recesses of our wounded soul – how could an entire nation have been annihilated? How could they have been taken as cattle to the slaughter? Even knowing all the innumerable reasons, the causes and circumstances which gave the Press of Blood the force to crush all living beings under its murderous weight, we again and again stand staring dumbstruck at the astonishing utter helplessness which swept the multitudes of the House of Israel into the claws of Death.

This can only be due to the fact that the force and the blow of the pain are so great and shocking, that even those whose own bodies were immersed in the bloodbath to its full depth, are unable separate and draw from the general tragedy its individual parts and lethal components.

We are still in a state of such shock, that the jaws of time in vain gnaw at the sealed walls of the infinite burden of agony. In vain, the mammoth sledgehammers pound on the anvils of our consciousness, which refuses to grasp the fiendish mesh in its entirety and to believe that which human logic cannot comprehend.

We must therefore stand and focus our gaze on the space enshrouded in the haze of the smoke of the crematoria and, through it, discern the secrets of this hell on earth – to perceive the monumental and plentiful tools of destruction, which were commanded and harnessed to grind all God's creatures in the monstrous whirlpool of blood. On the other hand, we must also see before us the silhouettes which were ground, crushed, and trampled, but who notwithstanding mustered the audacity and defied the impossible.

Without being able to even dream of gaining freedom, they waged a desperate war not in order to attain victory, but for the sake of doing battle! Not in order to save themselves, but to save the honour of their People, which had been cast to the very ground.

They breached open an aperture in the darkness of a world in which all light had been eclipsed!

There had never before been a war such as this, just as there had never been an evil and malicious power such as this, which decreed the extermination of all people – from suckling infants to the oldest elder.

Correspondingly, the properties of heroism and daring were also extraordinarily revealed and vastly surpassed the accepted norms, from antiquity to the days in they were manifested.

In utter desperation, in the Warsaw ghetto, Jews threw themselves from the upper floors of houses onto the heads of the Germans down in the street, to kill at least one German with their bodies.

In August 1942, the Jews in the ghetto began setting fire to their own homes, so that Jewish property should not fall into the hands of the Germans. Prior to his demise, the commander of the rebellion in Warsaw, Mordechaj Anielewicz, wrote to Icchak Cukierman, who was the link between the ghetto and the Aryan side:

In our struggle against the Germans, we have done even more than we could, but our strength is waning progressively. We stand on the brink of defeat. Twice we forced the Germans to retreat, but they returned with redoubled force. My life's last ambition has been fulfilled.

The poet Icchak Kacenelson hy”d, in his poem “The Song of the Murdered Jewish People,” wrote:

No, no, it is never too late! The last Jew killing a murderer, has redeemed his people! By killing too, something may yet be saved – Save!

“And in the general sea of blood, also a drop of my own” – the sons of Częstochowa, too, were among those who marched in the path of the rebellion and resistance. Just a small number of audacious individuals, who rose up to revolt against the plot of extermination, stood boldly in front of the cruel enemy's fierce machine.

Individuals and groups organised, in unimaginable conditions, to consolidate an armed struggle against the enemy. The nucleus of rebellion, which was organised in Częstochowa, constituted a link in the chain of centres of resistance which arose and were created within the ghettos, and it contributed its share and its sacrifice – a “burnt offering” on the altar of the general effort.

But, here, the secret and the hidden exceeded the overt. Naturally, as no witnesses survived, the anonymous heroes took their daring to their graves and only tiny slivers have been retained and passed from mouth to mouth.

Mojsze Josel Szancer, for example, was one of many who would have said and who would have thought!

The man Mojsze Josel was a God–fearing Jew, as Jewish men ought to be. All his life, he had been dedicated to Torah study and the service of God. He had never indulged in acts of violence, especially not with a weapon. And it came to pass that, one day, this Mojsze Josel Szancer was marching in Treblinka in the Procession of Death, alongside the multitudes of the House of Israel. Among his own people, he was treading his last steps towards the realm beyond all living. Pace after pace, step after step. The ground shakes under his feet, and soon everything will end.

He marches and on his back is the burden of persecutions, suffering, and blood of his people, which has been persecuted and tortured generation upon generation. He marches and, in his arms, is his infant grandchild, his son's son, young Jakób – the last surviving remnant. With his last remaining strength, he clutches the infant's back and presses him strongly to his chest – increasingly so – as if wishing to become one body and soul with him. He is fully determined to protect the little one until his last breath and to sacrifice his own life to save the life of his grandson.

And lo, two emissaries of The Realm of Evil approach him. They demand the child! In the blink of an eye, the fiend extends his impure hands to snatch the infant from his benefactor, but Mojsze Josel stands his ground – he will not relinquish him, whatever the consequences may be! The fateful seconds seem like an eternity. Mojsze Josel becomes infuriated, a tremor seizes him. He had once been a slaughterer. Not a slaughterer of devils, but of cattle. He still retains a reminder of those days – in his pocket. In one arm – the child and the other hand clutches the blade. His fingers tremble as with malaria – the knife is as sharp as a razor. Mojsze Josel feels he can no longer contain himself! An age–old vengeance whispers incessantly: “Strengthen me only this once, strengthen me! Let me die with the Philistines!”[1] And he plunges the blade into the flesh of the murderers – One! And Two! Mayhem breaks out! The enemy was temporarily confounded, startled by the victim's fierceness. But they regained their ground and, in a wild frenzy of rage, meted out the severest retaliation – until Mojsze Josel fell ravaged.

And those two young men – Izio Fajner (Faia) and Mendel Fiszlewicz who, standing in the square prior to being sent to the camp, threw themselves at the S.S. trooper with knife, fingernails, and teeth! Against immense power, armed from head to foot – bare human limbs.

Was there any chance at all of emerging victorious from such a hopeless struggle? Can this be considered a match in any way, which one may estimate at what price triumph may be gained?

No, we are not speaking of the price of life here, but of the price of death. This assault had but one purpose – to receive the price of one's death! To save that which cannot be robbed even with superior numbers – one's honour!

Another figure [whom people] mentioned, also belonged to the religious and god–fearing community, whose spirits were not dampened even when severely tested and whose insight – the ability to perceive the [impending] danger – stood them in good stead before [the catastrophe].

This townsman of ours – Icze (Izaak) Katz – was extremely learned and was an expert on the secrets of the Talmud and Midrash. Yet, at the same time, he had a vast knowledge of worldly events and, with his sharp intellect, he was able to look profoundly into the depths of the peril crouching at the gate and to discern it drawing near, at a time when no one yet envisaged it.

At a time when no one could or desired to believe in which direction Asmodeus was headed, Icze Katz warned of the approaching storm.

The great merit of the very few – and Icze Katz among them – who perceived from the very beginning of the hateful foe's appearance – in the form of its occupation force, with its soldiers, servants, and assistants – that his ways were the Ways to Hell [Proverbs, 7:27], and his deeds were deeds of evil, and his mission – killing, strangling, and utter eradication.

Verily, the agony and sorrow are immense, that this dark prophecy was far from being accepted by the masses, who regarded it as “outlandish,” or as imaginary.

When Dr Mark Dvorzhetski told the Jews of Wilna that Paneriai was not a labour camp, but that they were murdering Jews en masse there, they said to him, “Doctor, you're creating panic! Instead of encouraging us, you tell us horror stories. How could they be taking Jews and killing them just like that?”

The situation was the same in each and every locality, in all the Jewish communities everywhere. The Jews simply refused to believe!

Icchak Cukierman (“Antek”), when he testified at the Eichmann trial, said, “We had good people in Warsaw. It was impossible to believe that such a thing could happen, that they should rise up against the multitudes of the Jewish People and murder them”.

Whereas Icze Katz shouted, cautioned, and warned – from the very first day of the Nazi occupation – not to cooperate with the invader! Not to obey his orders and laws! Not to pay ransom! Not to provide forced labourers! Not to establish any autonomous representation, whose only purpose was to facilitate the enemy's domineering actions. No dealings should be had with him whatsoever.

“An enemy who declares our extermination,” Icze Katz said, “must not receive any aid – even in taking steps which are supposedly to our advantage.” But who listened to Icze Katz?


Not Accepting Fate

Generations of life in exile created in our people, well–versed in suffering and tribulations, certain traits of character, the likes of which it is doubtful whether any other nation possesses.

Whilst the heroic deeds of the Gentiles which attain fame are physical acts that they have performed, with the Jewish People, in the course of the many generations we have been in exile, a very special trait has been consolidated and strengthened – to contain the heroism within one's soul and to “express” it precisely by not allowing it to be expressed at all, in the sense of “Who is [considered] strong? He who overpowers his inclination.” [Pirkei Avot, Ch.4, mishna 1.]

This saying of the Sages only comes to provide an appropriate framework to an abstract concept, which had developed as a result of the history and the particular experiences of the Jewish People and it had left its mark in different ways.

The famous statement “More than Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews” [Ahad Ha'am] implies that religion and tradition, constituted in the course of the generations the hoops[2] that held the nation together, and were the barrier against assimilation. However, as correct as this statement may be (and there is, of course, much truth in it) – the distinct quality of not being willing to conform to the status quo was also “a helpmate for him”[3] [Genesis 2:18].

The Jews never did accept the Diaspora and, from this unwillingness to comply, they drew forth their messianic belief and their longing to return to Zion. The countless prayers scattered throughout the prayer–book attest to this: “May our eyes behold Your return to Zion”; “Return in mercy to Jerusalem Your city”; “May You shine a new light on Zion, and may we all [soon be worthy of its radiance]”; “Next year in Jerusalem,” and many, many others. But even more so than these silent supplications, a testimony to the refusal to resign themselves [to exile], and the yearning to go back to the Land of Israel, is the fact (which is one of the cornerstones of the foundation of our [Zionist] ideology of establishing our renewed kingdom in our homeland) that never [throughout history] did the Jews stop travelling to the Land of Israel – as small as the Aliyah may sometimes have been. It has not been interrupted since the Babylonian Exile, for two thousand [sic.] years![4]

Furthermore, to what extent the Jews refused to come to terms with reality and to accept the diaspora as an eternal decree, bears testimony to the fierce adherence to the unshakable conviction that the return to Zion would definitely come, even if unclear when. And even though, according to religious belief, this longed–for change is anchored in the mystical spheres, by which I mean that the nation shall return to its land only once the Messiah has arrived, this did not have the power, and nor did other huge factors, to divert them from the path of this perception. They did not resign themselves to the status quo, despite the fact that the new is beyond human understanding. Their patience is indefatigable and their time is limitless, even beyond the End of all Days. They are prepared to wait, for they are convinced of their rightness. They believe with unswerving faith! It will come, it must come! “And even though he may tarry”[5] – he will surely come – and they shall await him.

Which is to say, that our people has been endowed with this special quality of not accepting the status quo, from which also sprouted our nation's effervescent liveliness, the burning passion for creative endeavours [and] the obstinate determination to live, even while experiencing tribulations and suffering.

During the Holocaust, these traits were expressed with even greater vigour. Despite all the unimaginable maliciousness, persecution, and oppression, the Jews retained their humanity, [maintained] the basic requisites of life [and] helped one another, [providing] the needy with counsel and aid. This sometimes entailed mortal danger, but this fact could not deter [them] or prevent the expression of these traits of greatness – pure humanism and a refusal to accept prevailing circumstances.


He Sacrificed Himself for Others

With what scales may we weigh the kind of heroism shown by our townsman, the young Izrael (“Srul”) Rusk, who found himself in the Bliżyn camp? Conditions worsened from day to day, the calamities, the hounding, the backbreaking labour and the relentless hunger. One would have expected they would [be able to] break the prisoners' spirits, but they did not surrender themselves to their bitter fate; instead, they fought it with all the capacities that their minds and bodies possessed, to elude its suffocating arms.

For a long time, Rusk had a pair of socks concealed on his person, which to trade for bread; but his luck ran out and, during a search, the “stolen goods” were found. He was at once taken to be interrogated, where he was severely tortured so that he should reveal the identity of the benefactors who had given him the socks. But, knowing what could be expected to happen to them, Rusk bit his lips and remained silent! The coaxing and promises with which they sought to entice him, and even the tortures, were of no avail to the Nazi murderers. With superhuman valour, he endured the hellish abuse, until he gave up his soul. But the names of his friends – he never revealed.


Aid and Welfare

What is more, this lack of acceptance of reality had many facets, in the sense that Jews did not despair under the crushing weight of the cruel conditions, and they displayed great liveliness in sustaining both the material and the spiritual as one, to their last breaths.

This effect came to expression, among other things, in the operations of welfare and aid which were organised even under circumstances of pressure and distress. We recall the large group of deportees from Płock who arrived one winter Friday night and were temporarily put up in the hall of the Bank [Rolniczo–] Rzemieślniczy [Agriculture and Crafts].

The urgent aid, which was organised with the speed of lightning and extended to those in need, surprised everyone – even though our townsfolks' sense of helpfulness had always been famous.

And, in a no lesser manner, were expressed our people's exalted spiritual qualities to extend aid and deliverance to others in the desperate war against the contagious diseases which spread throughout the camp, due to the inhuman living conditions, as well as being purposely nurtured by the villainous foe.

This struggle was conducted in the ghetto streets by the old and young, men and women, to improve the sanitary conditions in order to check the spread of the epidemics. It entailed great risks, and demanded its daily sacrifice, every single day. But nevertheless, people acted to save lives with a dedication and heroism that did not fall beneath any other kind of self–sacrifice for an elevated cause.

All this was not limited to extending [physical] aid to others. No cultural activity or spiritual endeavour ceased to exist because of the dreary situation: religious studies on the one hand, and secular education on the other. On ulica Fabryczna, volunteer [female] teachers continued teaching primary school classes, and Reb Szyja Knobler, Lajbke Szajnweksler's son–in–law, gave regular Talmud lessons; melamdim taught and elucidated, writers wrote and poets composed poems which bore the mark of the times.

All these fed from the fierce desire to disrupt and annul the enemy's machinations, which foreboded annihilation and perdition. The deeds, responses and steps taken by these people who found themselves in purgatory were intended to rouse everyone around them not to yield to the violent foe; not to accept the cruel destiny; to rebel against and oppose the existing condition.

Each audacious act on their part in the given circumstances, each display of initiative and activity in the dejecting conditions, each phenomenon of coping with the depressing despondency – [together] constituted one [single] volume of supreme spiritual strength, which lay the groundwork and consolidated the creation and emergence of the resistance and rebellion movements against the Nazi beast.

Translator's footnotes:

  1. References to the biblical story of Samson's death; see Judges 16:28–30. Return
  2. As in the hoops of a barrel, which hold it together. Return
  3. Viz., this trait was also a major component, in addition to the aforementioned religion and tradition. Return
  4. The Babylonian Exile began in the late 7th century B.C., and ended several decades later, when the Jews were allowed to return. Return
  5. Maimonides' 12th Principle of Faith. Return

[Pages 197-214]

In the Struggle Against the Nazi Beast

Zvi [Hersz; Jacek, Heniek] Wiernik




Several days after we had been transferred to the “Small Ghetto”, a few individuals who had managed to escape from the Treblinka extermination camp came to us and revealed that all the Jews who had been transported to the camp had been exterminated in the gas–chambers.

If anyone still had the faintest hope that sometime the horrors, torture, and suffering would end, this terrifying information put an end to all these illusions.

In the light of what was to come, the idea to resist began to mature. But the catalyst for the actual embodiment of the thought of resistance were the many discussions which we held with Fiszlewicz, one of the Treblinka escapees.

Our decision was firm – to seek ways to defend ourselves at the appropriate moment and, if it was decreed that we should give up our lives, a hefty price would be paid for them.

At the beginning of November 1942, by Fiszlewicz, I was put in contact with Heniek Tencer, who was active in the Polish Communist Party and often came to the ghetto.

In my meetings with him and his wife, as well as with Sumek Abramowicz, [and Julek–] Wilek Celnik, I found out that several clandestine groups were organising for a defence. We therefore set ourselves the task to procure burglary tools, fuel, axes, [etc.] which to utilise during the akcje, to burn down the ghetto and to also amass implements which would allow us to escape from the railway carriages when there was a window of opportunity and to defend ourselves. The duty which I was charged with was to broaden the framework and to organise groups, each of fifteen people, as well as to gather the abovementioned materials and tools.

But my main duty was the purchase of weapons.

I had many acquaintances in various workplaces, such as the Ostbahn [(German) Eastern Railway], the Wulkan factory, Aleja 75 and the “furniture–camp” and Agro [or Anro?], who won my trust. I then began to organise groups of five, from among them whom I gave the task, among other things, to procure the required implements. Following preliminary operations, the items were concentrated in one specific spot and, later, were distributed to the intended operation–points.

Heniek Tencer was a very active and energetic man. He maintained close contact with people outside the ghetto and also with the Polish Resistance, from where he brought us printed material, which I distributed amongst the organised members. Reading this material had a positive influence, for it instilled in our members' hearts the sense that we were not alone in the campaign and this strengthened our spirits. In one of my meetings with Heniek Tencer, I received instructions to make ready to go out to the woods near Pilica and to join a partisan unit there under the command of Rudolf.

I was gratified that I would soon be joining the partisans and avenging the blood of my parents and relatives. I said farewell to my sister, my brother and my girlfriend, and awaited the appointed hour but, to my great disappointment, the contacts outside failed [us].

The contact person never showed up. Several days later, we heard that, as a result of denouncements, the unit was liquidated in a skirmish with the Germans, in which Commander Rudolf was also slain. In that same period, my connection with Heniek Tencer was also surprisingly cut off. I later learned that he and his wife had been detained by the Gestapo, severely tortured and murdered.

These were heavy blows for us, but our conviction in the rightness of our cause helped us overcome the desperate situation. I contacted Sumek Abramowicz, who was Heniek's successor and, through him, [I contacted] Juda Gliksztajn and Rywka Glanc, who represented the “kibbutz”[1].

There were other groups inside the ghetto which operated separately, each one within its own framework but, because the ghetto was small and with all the groups having a similar purpose, we soon found out about each other. Be that as it may, it was evident that by uniting forces, we would be able to operate more efficiently. We therefore instigated initial contacts towards unification.

The principal vacillations were around the question of whether the struggle should be conducted in the ghetto or in the forests – to join the partisans or to stay put?

It was finally decided to concentrate all efforts internally – to protect the ghetto. A joint general staff was created, established by the ŻOB, which included representatives from the majority of the groups: Bolek [Berl–Dow] Gwircman, Juda Gliksztajn [and] Rywka Glanc from the kibbutz ([Zionist] pioneering youth); Sumek Abramowicz and Mietek [Menachem] Ferleger from the “66” Group. The division of roles was as follows: Rywka Glanc – liaison with Warsaw; Sumek – liaison with the Polish Resistance; Juda – finances; Mietek – the purchase of armaments outside the city and Mojtek Zylberberg was appointed commander of the organisation.

Mietek Ferleger travelled extensively, and was able to purchase the first pistols from around Kielce. His journeys entailed many perils and he displayed great courage. Then, in December 1942, he went out on a mission and, indeed, managed to procure several handguns. But, on his way home, he was found by a patrol of the German Police, who searched him and found the weapons. Mietek was shot in [the] battle [that ensued][2]. When this news reached us, the members of the organisation were, at the same time, both saddened and proud. The organisation issued a special announcement, which was read, and members eulogised the first victim.

On 4th January 1943, we were again surprised with an akcja. The organisation was in its beginnings and was not yet prepared to respond. The majority of the members had gone out to work in their respective workplaces. The moment that the ghetto was surrounded and the akcja was declared, the members remaining in the ghetto assembled, with just one pistol at their disposal, to hold counsel on the line of action to be taken. Having no other option, it was resolved to go out to the Ryneczek [Square; Warszawski Rynek] – the concentration point for the akcja – and to do anything which the circumstances allowed. Once it became clear to them that the Germans intended to carry out a selection and a transport, the decision was made for them on the spot! Fiszlewicz burst forth from the row, took out his pistol and aimed at Lieutenant Roon, the officer in charge of the akcja. Unfortunately, the pistol malfunctioned. But Fiszlewicz did not lose his composure. He fell upon Roon and tackled him to the ground with a struggle. Izio Fajner sprang after him from the row, with a knife in his hand and launched himself at Lieutenant Zoppart, ripped his clothes and began wrestling with him. For a second, the Germans did not understand what was happening, but they soon regained control and a wild yell was heard, “Fire!” – Fiszlewicz and Fajner fell, wallowing in their own blood. They had indeed fulfilled their dream – to fall in battle against the German foe, as warriors.


The Jewish Warrior in the Ghetto – by Nota Kozłowski


In retaliation for our members' onslaught, the Germans took twenty–seven Jews from the rows, stood them up against the wall and shot them to death on the spot. The murderers then continued with the selection and many people were sent away to Radomsko and, from there, to Treblinka.

I was one of those who had been outside the ghetto during the akcja. When I came home in the evening, I learned of the details of the horrifying events, including the bitter news that my brother had been amongst the twenty–seven who had been executed.

Once we had recovered [from the ordeal], the organisation's activists came to realise that a new approach was necessary in the methods of action. It was decided to broaden the organisation's scope and I was adjoined to the general staff. After various meetings and some indecisiveness, in view of the mistakes we had made in the past, we delineated the course of action for the future and agreed that, at the head of our mission, stood the problem of defending the ghetto. We also decided to organise partisan groups in the forests and to adjoin them to the existing armed forces. In order to realise these goals, we needed to change the way we purchased weapons. As it had turned out, the weapons we had bought had not met the requirements in the hour of need and there was a risk that we were being swindled in these deals.

The correctness of our stance was proven when our fellow member, Rywka Glanc, returned from a mission to Warsaw. From her report, we learned of the preparations for defence being made in the Warsaw ghetto. We also found out that the majority of the Jewish population throughout Poland had already been annihilated. We felt as if the ground under our feet was on fire and that we had reached the determined resolve to manufacture our own explosives. The task of investigating the practicability of producing such materials fell upon me and this was no easy chore, for I had no experience whatsoever in such matters. I held numerous discussions with the few engineers, chemists and scientists still remaining in the ghetto, but they were unable to assist me, seeing as how Jews in Poland had never been given access to the explosives industry and they were completely inexperienced in this sphere. I was almost on the brink of despair, when I remembered my friend Szlomek Kaufman (“Mikrus”), who had excelled in his studies of mathematics and physics. I approached him and told him all about the issue [at hand]. At first, he would not listen to me and viewed my plans with doubt and mistrust. He explained to me that he did not see any way of making something from nothing – especially as we had no textbooks, laboratories or the necessary materials to embark on a production of this kind. But I did not give up yet and, after much persuasion and many explanations, I was finally able to convince Mikrus of the propriety of our plan and, once he had already put himself at our service, we established courses of action.

We reached the conclusion that, in our situation, it would be extremely desirable to make a handgrenade, which would serve both for attack and defence. We had [by then] already been equipped with theoretical textbooks, which we procured with great difficulties and, after many nights of joint analysis and study, we reached the stage of preliminary experimentation.

The issue of securing materials was again brought up. I called a meeting of the general staff and reported our progress. The general opinion was that, theoretically, we could already start experimenting.

We ascertained that the required constituents, above all the acids, were to be found in the storerooms of Jewish belongings on ul. Garibaldiego. With no easy efforts, our comrades managed to obtain what was needed and when, with great trepidation, we were able to begin actual work, our joy was boundless.

We operated under conditions that are hard to imagine – in attics, in cellars and, primarily, in a room around which lookouts were always posted. We finally achieved the production of the coveted powder which is called “mercury fulminate”, which constitutes the main basis for making the grenade. With painstaking work, we were able to overcome all the difficulties and obstacles which making the fuse [and] the gunpowder entailed. The body of the grenade was a chapter on its own. At the “Wulkan” foundry, where I worked with my friends, we cast the mould which was [then] smuggled into the ghetto inside a canister of soup. Thus, after three months of supreme efforts, the first grenade was ready for testing.

At the general staff meeting, there was, of course, great excitement when I showed them the grenade. Heniek Fajtak and, I think, also Józef Kantor were given the task to test it outside the ghetto. They returned the following day with the gladdening news that the experiment had succeeded! The blast had been exceedingly violent, even surmounting expectations. Representatives of the Polish Resistance had also been invited to witness the trial and they expressed amazement and admiration at our accomplishment.

In view of the experiment's success, a new stage commenced in our activities. We began planning out new and extremely daring schemes. In the meantime, special groups were put together, which were employed in manufacturing chemical ingredients, casting the grenade bodies, processing them and then assembling them.

We encountered difficulties in procuring funds and the necessary materials for production. To overcome these problems, an intelligence unit was organised, whose duty it was to locate places where these components could be found. In due course, we discovered that they were in the German warehouses and also in the Polish pharmacies. The material was obtained in various manners – part was stolen and part was purchased for large sums of money. We also learned that the materials were to be found in the pharmaceutic storerooms in the ghetto. So, we broke into the warehouses and extracted the available components. The group engaged in processing the chemicals and manufacturing the grenades consisted of Mikrus, my girlfriend Nacia and me. Those casting the bodies of the grenades were Mandelbaum (Michcyk), Erenfryd (Bastek), Ziskind Szmulewicz, Mojsze Rużanski, Mojsze Wilinger, Malia [?] Szmulewicz, Abram Czarny, and the writer of these lines.

Simultaneously, we also made Molotov cocktails, following the diagram from our comrades in Warsaw. We also planned to manufacture bombs, firearms and the like. Until the ghetto was liquidated, we were able to produce about 150 items.

The Fighting Organisation's main plan was primarily based on defending the ghetto. We set up two central points for attack and defence – at ul. Garncarska 40 and the main base at ul. Nadrzeczna 88, where the headquarters' bunker and arsenal were located. The communication point was set up at ul. Mostowa 9 and, in both the points I mentioned above, there were underground passages, [each] with an opening leading outside the ghetto boundaries, which were intended to serve the fighters as a means of escape to the woods when necessary.

Furthermore, intelligence units were organised, whose assignment it was to find out about the Germans' plans regarding the liquidation of the ghetto, to uncover traitors from inside and out and to maintain contact with Warsaw and Zagłębie. There were also groups whose responsibility it was to raise funds, to be in contact with the Polish Resistance, to engage in military training, to inflict sabotage outside the ghetto and to maintain contact with the partisans.


Sabotage Operations

In due course, [some] members went out to sabotage the railway. They made it there safely [and] unscrewed the bolts from the rails. But, unfortunately, the wrench (made by our comrades in “HASAG”) broke just as they were taking off the last bolt. Having no other option, they put everything back together and waited until the train with the munitions for the front had passed. The group returned safely to the ghetto and it was decided to operate in the same sector again.

The sabotage unit's task was to dismantle a rail, in order to derail a train with troops and ammunition headed for the Eastern Front. We had received detailed information on the timetables of the transports but, sadly, this operation failed. The fighters were to leave the ghetto with a group of Ostbahn labourers, cautiously detach from the group and carry out the mission. The comrades had already managed to sneak away from the group but, at the last moment, the German guards noticed they were missing and a dramatic pursuit ensued, in the course of which the Germans opened fire. In the skirmish which developed Awiw Rozyner and Harry Gerszonowicz were killed, while Dawid Altman and Heniek Pejsak were able to escape. Zvi Lustiger was wounded and was later captured by the German guards. He was grievously tortured, as the Germans desired to obtain details from him – Who had sent him? Who was the organisation's commander? What had been their purpose in going out with weapons? But Zvi acted with supreme heroism and never opened his mouth, despite the severe torture, until he breathed his last.

In January 1943, a group went out with Bolek Gewircman and Chaim Rozental (Maciek) to the Koniecpol area. Their mission was to set up a base and to organise a meeting with groups of Polish partisans. But their main goal was to establish a safe strategic point in case the ghetto was liquidated. At the beginning of June, a second group went out to the Złoty Potok woods. The Złoty Potok group comprised Romek Fajgenblat, the Wiener brothers, the Zborowski brothers, the Chitin brothers and others.

From its first day, fate would be cruel to this group. The Polish contacts did not show up and the fellows could not stop there. The surroundings were hostile and the forests were controlled by Polish Fascist groups, who murdered Jews who had hidden with peasants. It was therefore resolved to send the best of our fighters as reinforcements – Pinek Samsonowicz, Harry Potaszewicz, Lolek Blank and Berl Lemel. And then – another blow – as a result of denunciation, the group was attacked by the Gestapo and a battle ensued, in the course of which Pinek and Berl were killed, while Lolek escaped.

When the Germans conducted an identity parade and demanded of Harry to point out the members of the organisation, he was fiercely tortured, but he did not betray anyone. In torture and unimaginable pain, he gave up his soul.

The organisation's operations were funded, in the beginning, by private donations and also by “robbery”. As activities intensified, a tax was imposed on the wealthy individuals. Those who did not respond generously were held under arrest and the money was taken by force. Those engaged in the collection of funds were Leon Zylber, Szymon Mlodinow, Dawid Kantor and others.

The organisation also took measures against traitors, informers and thieves. An intelligence unit was appointed, headed by Awigdor Szyldhaus, which tracked the movements of informers. The members were briefed on how they should act and from whom they should guard themselves. A thorough investigation was conducted on the traitors and several death warrants were issued. The last traitor to be eliminated was Rozenberg – the Gestapo's faithful acolyte. The organisation also put to death a group of money–robbers and thieves, who passed themselves off as members of the organisation and who operated in its name, as it were. The ghetto's defences were based on several exit points: [a pair of] tunnels, tens of metres long. The hard and dangerous [excavation] work was carried out silently, so that even the nearest neighbours did not know what was being done. Taking the soil out unnoticed presented special challenges, as well as reinforcing the walls. But thanks to the relentless toil, the fighters managed to overcome the difficulties and dug two tunnels which led outside the ghetto. Via these tunnels, the fighters were able to escape after the liquidation of the ghetto towards the forests of Koniecpol. J. Kantor particularly excelled in digging the tunnels. The Germans saw to it that all the ghetto's inhabitants should work in military factories and, inside the ghetto, only night–shift workers or those employed in the ghetto services remained. There were often raids and strict inspections. Our comrade Marzej Krauze, who worked at the Arbeitsamt [Judenrat Labour Council], saw to it that the organisation's members who were digging the tunnels and manufacturing armaments should all be provided with the proper certificates.

During its first stages, the organisation met with a hostile attitude from the ghetto's residents. The Jews were of the opinion that we would hasten the end and that we would be responsible for the consequences. Obviously, this approach hampered our activities very much, but the situation gradually changed. People came to realise that life in the ghetto was by no means guaranteed at all. The Germans conducted “operations” from time to time and sent Jews to camps, such as Bliżyn and Skarżysko [–Kamienna]. Furthermore, the news of the uprising in Warsaw and the liquidation of the ghettos [also] had an influence. And particularly after the members of the organisation forcibly freed our comrade Hipek Heiman from the hands of the Jewish Police, who were about to deliver him to the Gestapo. They became cognisant that a counter–power had risen and they began to acknowledge us as a force to be reckoned with, when they realised that we did not shy away from using weapons, even in the “Jewish front”. The public's trust in us gradually grew, until they came to view us as their only means of rescue.

The elimination of the intelligentsia and the children on Purim 1943, during which the Germans murdered 127 individuals by fraudulently taking them away from the ghetto to send them to the Land of Israel, as it were – as an exchange deal for Germans [held] in Palestine – also reinforced the public's conviction that they could no longer rely on miracles and conclusively showed the Germans' true intentions towards us. In that same operation, our comrade Władek Kopiński managed to jump from the vehicle on the way to the cemetery and several others followed suit. He was able to escape but as, a result of informing, he was captured and executed. Rumours spread that the members of the organisation went outside to the forests and other places and many beat at the organisation's gates.

On 1st May, the ghetto was sealed off and the Jews were no longer allowed to go work in “outside jobs”. This was a clear sign for us that the end was nearing and the organisation's general staff declared a state of standby. The weapons were distributed and the combatants were sent to positions with a detailed briefing – how to engage the enemy. Post factum, it emerged that we had been mistaken. The ghetto was indeed sealed off for three days, but it turned out that this had been a safety measure, on part of the Germans in preparation for the 1st and 3rd of May, which had been taken for fear of operations by the Polish Resistance.

here was collaboration between the ŻOB and the representatives of the Polish Resistance, headed by Commander Langewicz.

In one of the meetings in the city suburbs, in the Raków–Kamionka[3] area, the house was suddenly attacked by men of the S.S. and Gestapo. It was clearly no routine random search. The Germans knew that men of the Resistance were gathered there. The troops threw grenades inside, operated machine–guns and killed several people.

Mojtek was slightly injured, but managed to jump out and flee. Chaskel Kantor, too, was able to return from there to the ghetto. The Germans were already aware of ŻOB's existence and they introduced informers into the ghetto in order to eliminate it. Our intelligence unit reported intensified German operations and, mere days before the liquidation of the ghetto, the organisation sealed the fate of several Jewish collaborators, among them the baker Kolbe and the infamous policeman Rozenberg, who had come from the Łódź ghetto. Two days preceding the liquidation of the ghetto, the gendarmes shot at Dr [Adam] Wolberg, who was a captain in the Polish army and maintained the connection between the organisation and the representatives of the Polish Resistance's military. Once it became known that the Germans were preparing for operations to liquidate the ghetto, on 25th June 1943, the organisation's general staff issued a preparatory order and a muster of the fighters. That same day, an emissary from Warsaw, Marek Fulman, arrived and a general headcount was held at the main bunker. Marek told of the uprising in the ghetto and of its liquidation and he stressed that the battle was not over. We were convinced that zero hour was imminent and that we, too, would be put to the test in battle against the enemy. The patrols reported that, for the time being, there had been no changes of the atmosphere and that no concentrations of Germans were seen. In the afternoon, the groups returned from their workplaces, as usual, to the ghetto. The leadership of the organisation therefore decided to call off the muster and state of standby. The weapons that had been distributed were stored in the main bunker, in which only the injured Mojtek remained, who lay with a high fever, and with him – Lutek Gliksztajn. The fighters dispersed, each to his own home.

But, as I was walking together with Nacia, as we were already approaching the place where we lived, we suddenly heard gunfire. We started to run back towards the central bunker. As it turned out, most of the combatants were doing the SAME. But, upon approaching the bunker, many of our comrades fell into the trap and also found their deaths there. Among them were Józef Kantor, Heniek Fajtak, Szyldhaus and others. The bunker was surrounded by a cordon of S.S. men, who dared not effect an entrance. They seized a young lad from the ghetto, forced him to enter first and then marched in after him. They found Mojtek, the organisation's commander, already dead. He had committed suicide with a dose of potassium cyanide, which was always at his disposal. Lutek, on the other hand, managed to hide in the escape tunnel and fled after two days. With difficulties, he arrived in the Koniecpol woods, where he joined a group of Jewish partisans with whom he took part in battles and in one of which he fell.

The Germans, who infiltrated the bunker, abused Mojtek's corpse and took from it all the armaments we had managed to amass with such hard work – dozens of grenades, pistols and Molotov cocktails, three rifles, German uniforms, large quantities of food, medicines and more. They then left and the ghetto remained surrounded with a cordon of S.S. guards.

As evening neared, we assembled together with Marek to hold counsel regarding the next steps which we should take. We had been left without almost any weapons and other means of warfare – [and] without a commander. Taking this [German] operation into account, it was resolved to make use of the underground passage at ul. Garncarska 40 and to take groups outside, with the aim of reaching the woods. I was also supposed to be among those leaving but, in the prevailing confusion, my wife[4] disappeared. So, I decided to go back and look for her. Once I had been able to find her, we returned to the exit point. But, meanwhile, we learned that the chances of leaving the ghetto were practically none. So, we agreed to remain for the time being.

Only a few of those who left managed to make it to the woods. The majority were killed on their way there. Rywka Glanc and Marek, who attempted to escape by one of the tunnels, were discovered by the Germans and, with the meagre arms they had at their disposal, they defended themselves bravely.

Rywka was killed, after defending herself to the last bullet, whilst Marek threw a grenade and was able to escape in the mayhem that ensued. In this battle, one German was slain and several others were wounded.


At the Raków Factory

Together with several of our comrades–in–arms, we hid in the bunker where the gunpowder was kept. The moment we were discovered, we would blow up the bunker, so as not to fall into the hands of the executioners. The following morning, the Germans announced, through the Jewish Police, that everyone was required to go out to the Ryneczek assembly point. They promised that they would send the people from there to work at the HASAG and Raków factories and that those who ignored the orders and stayed inside the ghetto – would be burned alive. Thus, they were able to deceive the public, which had been enticed to clutch at the straw of supposed salvation. The Germans' cruel conniving was boundless. At the Ryneczek assembly point, an akcja took place, led by the chief of the gendarmerie Degenhardt and the residents, who lived next to the central bunker, were loaded onto freight lorries and, together with the others, were taken to the cemetery. There, they were shot to death. As they stood in the lorries, they shouted, “Avenge our blood!”.

My wife was sent to the HASAG–Pelcery factory, whereas I took advantage of my connection with a friend, who was employed in the Arbeitsamt, and was transferred together with my friends Zyskind, Szmulewicz, Mikrus, Mojsze Rużanski and others to the Raków factory.

It was a kombinat [Pol.; plant, works] for the casting and processing of iron, in which over 10,000 labourers were employed, working in three shifts. The hardest and filthiest jobs were given to the Jews. Life was harshly regimented, and under the strict supervision of the internal guard. But, despite everything, we managed to find a breach in the wall of solitude that they had erected around us. Fortunately for us, the Polish workers there were organised and their attitude towards us was more benevolent than in other workplaces.

Our mood was at its lowest. We were horribly depressed. The many thoughts and efforts we had invested in the production of grenades, digging the tunnels, the multi–branched organisation which we had set up towards the great day on which we would be able to fight and seek revenge – everything was ruined and had gone down the drain.

From afar, the thunder of the bombing reached our ears – they were liquidating the ghetto, [together] with the people living init. And in the ocean of hatred, destruction, and annihilation, there was one German named Milof, who was in charge of our camp. Milof travelled to the ghetto, as if to fetch equipment for the camp and, risking his own life, succeeded in taking several people from out of the burning ghetto and bringing them to the camp. He recounted how they were bombing one house after another, dispatching the sick [and] extricating people who had hidden in bunkers and throwing them alive into the flames. But his humanistic attitude doomed him. When his actions became known to the Germans, he was very soon sent to the front – and killed.

Following the liquidation of the ghetto, a few individuals who had managed to breach the tight ring of Germans who had destroyed the Złoty Potok unit, came to the camp. Among them were Ignaś Jakubson, Natan Fridman, and Abram Woznica. Bernard Chraport was caught in Raków and murdered, whilst Szulim Laszer was apprehended by the Gestapo. They told us about the group's tragic fate and we helped them however we could.

The thought that the unit in Koniecpol had remained without contact with us, and had not known about what had happened to us, gave me no peace. After we recovered a little, we decided to send two members – Michał Deres and Bartek Lubranicki – to the forests of Koniecpol, to the village Michałów. Despite the fact that these were alien surroundings, we made a great effort and worked out a detailed plan for our comrades. We also established that, within a week and a few days, they were to return to the camp. This time, our friends were lucky. They made it to the woods after many hardships, found our comrades the partisans and returned exactly on time to the camp, bearing a letter from Juda Gliksztajn, requesting medications for Leizer Szydlowski, who had been wounded in a battle against the Germans. We had again found a reason to live and we wanted to continue the struggle. When our comrades' mission was heard of in the camp, the chairman of the camp's Labour Council demanded of me that [we] cease all activities. Firmly, I replied to him that we would continue no matter what! In “response,” I was sent to hard labour, unloading railway carriages. Through Dr Glater, we obtained medications and our messenger, again, went to the forest, with the proper instructions for treatment. After a little over a month, we established regular communication with other workplaces. It was the [female] dentist Lonia Grin, who occasionally came from the other camp, HASAG–Pelcery, to treat the sick. She brought me letters from my wife, in which she told of life in HASAG. The knowledge of our connection with our members outside encouraged the comrades at Raków and instilled in them a spark of hope. Despite the difficult conditions, small units began to organise.

In autumn 1943, Władka, the first emissary from ŻOB, came to us bringing letters from Antek Cukierman and the central committee in Warsaw, as well as a sum of money as aid.

Meanwhile, the connections with HASAG–Pelcery intensified. There, too, the rows broadened – a central council was organised, which unified all the groups that had previously operated separately. The members of this council were Izaak Diamant, Różka Działowska, Izrael Szymonowicz, Gelbard, Adaś, Motek Kusznir, and Nacia – my wife. Contacts were also established between the camp at the Częstochowianka–Warta factory, the HASAG–Skarżysko camp and Bliżyn.

Despite the prevailing conditions in the labour camps, a broad activity was conducted. In adherence to the instructions which we had received from Warsaw, we began to gather documentary material, which was passed on to Warsaw through the Koniecpol forests. We were often visited by emissaries from Warsaw, who brought with them funds and information. Among these was Wiernik's pamphlet about the rebellion in Treblinka, as well as letters from abroad.

I recall the impressive circular on behalf of the Jewish Agency, signed by Izaak Grünbaum and Berl Locker, which was passed from hand to hand among the members of our organisation.

The influence of the financial aid was immediately felt in a substantial manner, as it alleviated the hunger crisis prevailing in the camp. We were again able to care for the sick and needy, extend aid to those hiding in bunkers outside the camp, as well as to children who were concealed with Poles.

Frequently, the Germans conducted thorough searches. In these cases, we were commanded to come out of our living quarters and forced to appear completely naked – absolutely all of us – each holding his clothes in his hands.

As Fate decreed, it was precisely on one of these search–days that we received a package of materials and a huge sum of money, which we were to distribute among all the camps.

I despaired. It was impossible to go to the search with the package and all the entrances and exits were sealed. Only literally, at the last moment, did a solution present itself, when Zyskind Szmulewicz entered the infirmary where Hilek Frydrych lay with a bandaged leg. He shoved the package into the bandage and then we were able to go out to the search. This time, the trick worked, but we did not always meet with success. One time, our local coordinator Jan Brust, who was a member of the P.P.S., was stopped at the entrance to the factory. He was subjected to a meticulous search (probably as a result of being informing upon), in the course of which a letter to me was found. Upon realising he had failed, Brust started running and, as he ran, he swallowed the letter piece by piece. The sentry shot at him, wounding him severely. Brust was taken to the hospital, where he lay unconscious for two days. Before dying, he regained consciousness and the first question he asked his wife, who sat by his bedside the entire time, was whether, while being unconscious, he had not, Heaven forbid, given Jacek's [viz. the author] name and those of the conspirators. He asked [her] to convey to me all the instructions he had received outside, upon which he immediately died. With his death, we lost a dear friend and this was for us a blow from which we were not able to recover quickly.

Our comrades in the Koniecpol woods energetically saw to it that the communication be renewed. Their regular coordinator, Tolka [Otylia] Hajdas, would send us letters and money from Warsaw through Wojciech Nowialk, who worked in Raków (a member of the P.P.S.), via Koniecpol. The contact was maintained through our chief liaison, Zyskind, who showed commitment and willingness to the cause [and] was always ready to sacrifice himself – both in direct operations and in his treatment of fellow members.

Operations in our labour camp were managed by a small committee, comprised of the Zyskind, Szmulewicz, Leon Zelwer, the barrister Wilczyński, Dawid Kantor, Abram Boruch, Ignaś Jakubson and myself.

On 25th June 1944, the [first] anniversary of the liquidation of the ghetto, we gathered in our organised groups to commemorate the martyrs. We spoke of the tragic circumstances of the ghetto's liquidation and [that of] the Fighting Organisation, and we swore to intensify operations. We planned acts of sabotage, including almost regularly damaging the carriages which brought cargoes into the factory – by putting sand into the bearings.

The effect of the sand was devastating. After travelling a few kilometres, the sand would penetrate the bearings [and] scrape the casings, thus rendering the carriages unfit for use. In this manner, we “treated” thousands of carriages and we were not caught – even once. Another operation we carried out together with Zyskind was directed at the furnaces. Working the night shift, we closed the taps that conveyed the water to cool the steel furnaces. As a result, the walls of the furnace were burnt and, for several days, was unusable for several days as it needed to be repaired.

In our work of sorting the materials that had come back from the front, we were required to set aside any shells that were still loaded with explosives, so that they should not be sent to the furnace. But we did the exact opposite. We threw the loaded shells into the furnace and, obviously, explosions occurred. Our method was to inflict damage in every department.

I recall one brazen operation when, with the help of Szlomek Kaufman (Mikrus), we injected the main underground electrical cable with sulphuric acid. Two days after the operation, all work ceased completely in this gigantic factory and, only after much effort, were the experts able to discover the source of the malfunction. They were forced to take the cable apart in order to start it working again. The Gestapo unit followed the acts of sabotage in the factory alertly, but it never occurred to them that we were the ones behind them. They detained many Poles and sent them to Oświęcim [Auschwitz]. The Polish public, too, were convinced that the operations were the Polish Resistance's handiwork.

At the end of summer 1944, when the Russians managed to crush the German front and to come up to the banks of the Wisła and the outskirts of Warsaw, the Germans began liquidating the labour camps and the labourers were sent to Oświęcim. The transports passed through the grounds of the factory where we worked and, from within the carriages, notes were thrown out to us regarding the liquidation of the camps and the destination of the transports. We decided to intensify our activity and we informed our comrades and friends of the fate which awaited us all. The news spread quickly and reached from one end to the other. Panic ensued and, that same night, several dozen people escaped from the camp. I also made ready to leave, but Fate decreed otherwise. The liaison Nowialk approached me that night and informed me that a messenger had arrived from Warsaw with important directives and that I was to stay put. This news struck me as odd. I was placed in a difficult situation as, after the mass escape, I would no longer be able to remain overtly in the camp. The primary traces would lead directly to me, as I was the chief organiser. Indeed, I deliberated seriously on this question. I ended up staying. I found an underground hiding–place in the factory, where I awaited further orders. The following day, the liaison again [?] told me that the messenger was not willing to deliver material and details in the hitherto accustomed manner, but that he wished to meet with me in person outside the camp instead. This aroused my suspicions and I resolved not to go to this tryst. Three days of uncertainty passed. Zyskind, Fridman, Natan and I remained in that same hideout without food, without air, crammed in very tightly. Only on the third day did we learn that that messenger had threatened our coordinator with murdering him, together with his family, because he could not see me and, only once the outbreak of the Polish revolt in Warsaw had become known, did he let him off and retrace his steps.

We pondered on our awkward situation, which seemed to us to have reached an impasse. To return to the camp was impossible. Nor could we flee, for all around was a barbed–wire fence and an augmented vigilance with dogs. But, as there was no other option, we decided to seek possibilities to quit the hideout. Digging with our hands, we expanded our refuge and, at the same time, we maintained contact with the outside through our friends – Lewek Jakubowicz and Szajek Brauner. During the nights, they smuggled in slices of bread to us. The thought that invigorated us was based on the illusion that the front would advance speedily, reach us and redeem us. But, to our sorrow, reality was quite cruel. The Russians progress was halted and we remained buried alive. We continued enlarging our shelter and our friends camouflaged the entrance from the outside.

We remained stuck, this way in our cramped conditions for fourteen whole weeks.

From the depths of our hideout, we sought contact with the outside and with the rest of the camps. Those who knew us were sure that we were outside the camp and that we had been hiding in the woods for a long time already.

But, in reality, for us the end was nearing with confident strides. On 3rd November 1944, we learned of Nacia's arrest in the HASAG camp. Her liaison was caught along with her and, in his possession, was a letter for me, as well as our own contact person, the uncle of the young Pole, Wojciech Nowialk. Under interrogation, this man gave up Szajek Brauner's name – our direct contact – and, on Friday 6th November, at noon, the Germans surrounded our hideout and ordered us to come out.

From there, we were taken to the guardroom, where we received the first part of the “punishment”. We were [then] conducted from the guardroom to the Gestapo on ul. Kilińskiego and, later, to the central prison. Here, we were crammed into a detention cell with thirty other Poles. From time to time, we were dragged to interrogations. This continued to 21st November.

On the morning of that day, we were called outside and saw that the unit that was to carry out death sentences awaited us. They stood us up against the wall with our hands raised and we waited. We heard an unusual bustle all around. Gestapo men appeared, accompanied by the officer in charge of the prison. They passed through the cells, looking for volunteers to extract a bomb that had fallen, during the previous night, in the bombing of the area next to the prison. It had not exploded. The Poles refused, so that they therefore approached us with the request that we agree to go out on this task. They endeavoured to convince us that we had nothing to lose anyway, for we were facing execution, and here we were given an opportunity because, if we succeeded in extracting the bomb, we would be able to return to the labour camp. We, of course, did not hesitate and we went out to this work, already escorted by regular police.

And while we were still wondering in stress and in fear as to what course events would take, we learned that two of the bombs that had fallen during the bombardment had remained unexploded and, when they had attempted to remove them, one had exploded, causing the deaths of several S.S. men. This was why they had given us the task to remove the second one. When our job was completed, we were returned to the prison. Needless to say, the Gestapo did not keep their promise. The next day, after three weeks in gaol, we were sent to the Gross–Rosen concentration camp, where our ordeals and suffering continued.

From there, I was transferred to various locations and I was liberated, by the Russians in the Sudetes mountains on 9th May 1945.

Translator's footnotes:

  1. See above, this volume, col.99, regarding the “kibbutzim.” Return
  2. See the book “Resurrection and Destruction in Ghetto Czestochowa,” p.117
    (https://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/Czestochowa4/cze113.html), in which a different version of his death is given. Return
  3. Kamionka is a large hill not far from Raków. Return
  4. Above, the author refers to her as his “girlfriend.” One may therefore surmise that the couple married sometime during these events, although this is not mentioned. Return

[Pages 215-216]

Conspiratorial Activities

Jakób Alebarde

After the outbreak of the War, there remained in Częstochowa political activists of all tendencies and it did not take long before we began organising underground activity. We threw all the archives out the window and lit a great fire. During the burning of the papers, a fire broke out and we fled.

In October 1939, we gathered at the Jewish cemetery and divided the work amongst smaller groups. A party–member was appointed to each group.

The second, and already larger, meeting of Bundists took place at the same location. It concerned bringing the tragically demised futurist Michał Szymkowicz to a grave.

At the second meeting, it was decided, among other things, to move the large Medem library from Aleja 20 to ul. Nadrzeczna, to the librarian Rajzla Berkensztadt and, from there, to conduct illegal cultural work.

The Germans' first repressions, arrests and executions soon found our people. The Gestapo discovered our activity and major arrests followed. Among the detainees was Motek Kusznir (who died in advanced old age in Israel), who had escaped prison. The second was the writer of these lines, but they did not find me.

The Gestapo made the Judenrat answerable for us both, wherefore the party–committee decided that we were to leave the city of Częstochowa as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the Judenrat reported that the Gestapo demanded that we both be turned in and that, if not, they would be held responsible. The Bundist party–committee held another discussion and Motek Kusznir declared that he was willing to turn himself in to the Gestapo, in order to avoid innocent victims. By a decision of the party–committee, I fled to Piotrków.

Motek Kusznir was taken, together with Rajzla and Mojsze Berkensztadt, to the gaol in Zawodzie and, each morning, they were conducted to the Gestapo for a “hearing”. There, they would beat them for such a long time, that they would fall unconscious.

In the meantime, Kusznir was freed through the paying off of two Gestapo men. Later, Rajzla, too, was freed. Mojsze Berkensztadt was horribly tortured [and], later, was sent to Oświęcim, where he perished.

In our perilous work of reorganising ourselves, not only did old party activists take part, but fresh people also. A man from Piotrków named Berliner accomplished a great deal. He had had much experience in conspiratorial work in the pre–War years (his brother lived in Częstochowa – an old Bundist of [the revolution of] 1905).

We also attempted establishing contact with outside the ghetto, even with the help of children, such as the girl Lerner.

Both the conspiratorial work, and the missions upon which we were sent, were deeds of great peril and more than one activist paid for this with his life.


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