Maciej (Mojsze) Krauze
With the establishment of the Small Ghetto in Częstochowa, the underground movement was set up. The Jewish settlement, which had numbered between 55,000 to 60,000 in the Big Ghetto, was annihilated in the gaschambers of Treblinka. Only some five thousand people remained mostly the young who categorically cast aside the ideal of passivity, choosing the path of armed resistance.
I, as a former member of the Polish army, immediately joined ŻOB and, with the blessing of its leaders, Rywka Glanc, Heniek Pejsak and Josek Kantor, became an official of the Labour Council. The Labour Council in the Small Ghetto, which had been appointed by the German authorities to be their expositor, in reality became a reliefinstitution for the underground movement.
In the morning, when the labourers went out to work, the foreman received as many foodration coupons as there were people going to work. The members of the underground were unable to go to work, because they were engaged in building tunnels which connected the Small Ghetto to the Aryan side. I needed to provide these comrades with food, as well as creating reserves of victuals, in case of an emergency.
The work at the ammunitions factory HASAGPelcery was done in two shifts one week in the day and one week at night. Those who worked at night were issued special permits, which gave them the right to be inside the ghetto during daytime. In order to prevent forgeries, the permits were changed every week. I provided members of the underground with such permits. If a Jew was found inside the Small Ghetto without a permit, he was at once shot by the S.S. men.
On 23rd April 1943, Rywka Glanc came from the Aryan side and handed me a proclamation, in the Polish language, which needed to be printed in four thousand copies by 27th April. With difficulty, I procured the necessary paper [and], on the 26th at 19:00, I went inside the Labour Council [office], closed the shutters and applied myself to the task. Two members of ŻOB stood outside as lookouts. Suddenly, I heard the preagreed signal I turned off the light and immediately the noise of a car could be heard. Degenhardt, may his name be obliterated, the commander of the Small Ghetto, and hangman of the Częstochowa Jewry and that of the entire Radom district, had precisely then arrived to carry out an unexpected inspection, seeking victims to shoot. Twenty minutes later, I received a new signal and the work was resumed.
At five o'clock in the morning, a freight van arrived and took the proclamations, two typewriters and a papyrograph. Everything arrived safely to the partisans in the forest.
When members of ŻOB went away into the forest or to operations and were not supposed to return, I would report a smaller number of people, because upon returning from work, the S.S. were liable to carry out an inspection and, if the numbers did not add up, it could end in victims.
There were also instances when the factory security was paid off to allocate groups to certain locations, from which they went off into the forest. Once, at five in the morning, security was leading away a group of ten ŻOB members, who were going to join the Jewish partisans of Polish Kamieniec, under the leadership of Bolek Gwircman. The group was accidentally spotted by a Polish policesergeant Majznerowicz who at once informed Zoppart, Degenhardt's deputy. I was held under arrest at the police station in the ghetto. During the interrogation, knowing that 1015 workers had remained overnight at the Heeresbauamt [military construction department] workplace, I declared that the ten workers were needed to be early in the morning to unload carriages. Zoppart and the constables ascertained that a group of Jewish labourers was, in fact, at the workplace. When I was under arrest, the leaders of ŻOB Mietek and Józek Kantor appeared and informed me that, in a couple of minutes, an operation would be conducted to set me free. I absolutely forbade them to carry this mission out, as I was certain that there were more than ten Jewish workers at the workplace. Once it had been proven that my declarations were true, I was released. But the police warned me that the next time I sent labourers to work at an hour that had not been previously arranged, I would pay with my own head.
Before ŻOB's underground bunkers had been set up, weapons and money were hidden in my own dwelling. Also, during policeraids, members of ŻOB were hidden in my apartment, because on the door hung a note, signed by Lieutenant Zoppart, that the keys were at the Labour Council. Therefore, no suspicions fell upon the apartment.
Following the liquidation of the Small Ghetto, together with other Jewish workers, I was sent to HASAGPelcery from where, on 17th January 1945, I was liberated.
At the end of June 1943, the Small Ghetto in Częstochowa was liquidated, thus ending a chapter of heroic struggle and Jewish resistance to the Nazi beast.
The liquidation of the Small Ghetto was accompanied by horrendous slaughter and the Germans were able to temporarily instil fear into a large part of the remaining 4,000 or so Jews. The despair was particularly great due to the fact that the most active and dynamic elements, which consisted of ŻOB combatants, had been torn away. The news, which came regarding the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto, the massliquidations in other localities, as well as our own tearful experience of the liquidation of the Big Ghetto in Częstochowa itself, no longer left any doubt that for us, too, Hitler's murderers were preparing a plan of total annihilation.
The killers were aware of our sentiments against them, which implied a readiness to take revenge. They therefore prepared their plans of annihilation in such a manner so that they would have the fullest certainty of achieving an easy victory over us.
The massslaughter in the Small Ghetto was, therefore, carried out with a small number of people present. They took advantage of the fact that almost all the Jews of the ghetto worked in two shifts at HASAGPelcery, in order to conduct the killing in a refined manner. One shift worked from 6:00 to 18:00, the other, from 18:00 to 6:00. One day, when the morning shift came to work at HASAG Apparatebau [apparatus construction], it was so arranged that the night shift was not allowed to leave the factory. In this way, only a small number of people remained inside the Small Ghetto, mainly old people and those who were not fit for slavelabour at the munitions factory.
Leon Tenenbaum's Heroic Reticence
Meanwhile, the Gestapo arrested a group of members, among whom was Leon Tenenbaum an active member of ŻOB in the Small Ghetto. Tenenbaum was cruelly tortured during the interrogation and, later, was brought to HASAGApparatebau to betray any resistors working there. The labourers in HASAG were arranged in rows, along which Leon Tenenbaum was led. The Gestapo men demanded of him that he point out those who had collaborated with ŻOB. This, of course, did not go well for them and they shot Tenenbaum, together with other people whom they suspected.
Murders and Torture
The foremen, the production managers, the engineers, the administrators and the factory security all participated in the bloody acts of terror against Jews in HASAGApparatebau. Each foreman beat and tortured his slaves as much as he pleased. The German forewomen also did not remain underrepresented and they often surpassed even the men with their bestiality. After finishing work, the factory security would come inside the barracks [and] beat, tortured and would shoot through the windows especially in the women's barracks.
Selections were often conducted in HASAGApparatebau,. Already, in the first selection, 500 victims fell.
The wretched ones were, first of all, thrown by the Germans into dark cellars, which were on the territory of the socalled Kolonie [Ger.; colony]. Later, their hands were bound and they were thrown up onto freight vehicles. While doing so, the German foremen and security guards would hit the victims on the head with a hammer to stun them. The construction foreman Oppeln, who was later nicknamed Morsz, particularly distinguished himself in this. In this manner, the Jewish victims were transported to the cemetery and, there, were shot.
Hell, however, did not end with the selection. Each day brought new victims. Here, the security force shot ten people, there, the German foreman Hausner shot a woman. None of them was required to render an account of their sanguinary deeds. Jewish blood was for the taking. To murder a Jew was a good deed.
The living conditions were no better. A prisoner's rations, for an entire day, consisted of 200 grams of bread (if one could call it bread), half a litre of barley coffee and half a litre of dried beetroot soup. The hard labour was done for twelve hours, without any rest. For every break one took, one was beaten by the foreman and the security force. The crowdedness of the barracks was unbearable. Hundreds of people lay on stacked bunks, one next to another. This tightness caused terrible filth, accompanied by lice, fleas and bedbugs.
On top of everything, there were also the łapanki [Pol.; roundups], which were conducted by the security guards after the twelve hours of strenuous toil. The łapanki were carried out in order that those apprehended could perform special, extra duties.
In these dreadful conditions, the majority were filled with feelings of apathy and resignation. People were sick of life and instances of suicide began to appear. Some drowned themselves in the river, others ran into the electrified wires, etc. There was danger that the suicides would spread and take the form of an epidemic. Collective depression does not spare even those with a strong character.
From this tragic situation, there emerged the necessity for one to stand up against these apathetic tendencies and to strengthen the faith in the fall of Nazism.
The specific conditions in the HASAGApparatebau camp compelled the resistance groups to engage in fierce, conspiratorial activity.
In the ranks of these resistance groups were forty men and women, the most active, remaining, Jewish fighters from the Big Ghetto and the Small Ghetto.
They were organised into groups of five individuals, according to their living quarters. The first goal the organisation set itself was to conduct informational work amongst its members. This political educational activity was necessary in order to fortify the fighting spirit.
There were problems with which we dealt at every meeting and which never lost their relevance. The leadership's meetings took place once a week. Besides this, the working conditions in the various departments of the factory were also dealt with, paying particular attention to the Jewish kapos. In the pressing plant, there was a metalworker who was an informer and he would bring everything to the German foremen. We created such an atmosphere around this individual, that he should feel our contempt of him.
Social questions, such as how to alleviate the hunger conditions, were also handled at the leadership's meetings.
We put ourselves in contact with the camp kitchen, which enabled us to acquire extra portions for those in [greater] need. Fela Hofman aided us extensively in this. We also procured medications for the sick, through our contacts with the outside world.
There was a Jewish radiotechnician in the camp, whom the Germans had provided with a separate, little room in which to repair radios and, while testing the apparatuses, we listened to programmes from abroad. We also gleaned news and material from the Nazi weekly Das Reich. From these articles, we could form an image, for ourselves, of the situation at the front. Jews faced the death penalty for reading Das Reich. For reading the Krakauer Zeitung [Kraków Newspaper] or the Warschauer Zeitung [Warsaw Newspaper], one received twentyfive lashes.
Our resistancestruggle was conducted, first and foremost. in the direction of not allowing ourselves to be turned into spiritual slaves and of not letting our morale be broken by the sanguinary German terror.
Thanks to this activity, we were also able to realise the second part of our plan the sabotage and acts of diversion in the production [line]. One of the primary tasks we took upon ourselves was to slow the work down as much as possible.
Among the Polish labourers who came to HASAG from the city, there was one metalworker named Marian Imiołek, who worked in the mechanical workshop. I, too, worked there. Over time, good relations were established between us. As it turned out, for many years, this Imiołek had worked in Belgium and France and had returned to Poland before the onset of the War. It seemed that we could put a certain trust in him. But, we then discovered that he belonged to the underground movement of the sadly renowned Armia Krajowa [Home Army], which had on its conscience thousands of murdered Jews and among the victims very many active Częstochowa ŻOB members also.
Nevertheless, at a meeting of the organisation's management, it was agreed that, due to the great importance of the matter, we should risk it and take advantage of the opportunity to establish a contact with this Imiołek. For safety's sake, we did not connect him with the organisation, but with just one individual.
Through this Polish labourer's intercession, we began regularly receiving periodicals, illegal literature and other material. At the same time, he also brought medicine for the sick, for which he received payment.
Our underground organisation's successful decisions, at the time, were a result of the fact that we adapted our resistancestruggle against the Nazis to the specific circumstances in the camp.
Those who worked at machines needed to systematically neglect them, so that when a machine was damaged, one was not to make this known immediately, but to keep it running until it had almost broken down. We exploited the fact that not all the German foremen were experts and that they were not proficient with the machines.
At the mechanical workshop the Maschinenbau [construction of machines] where the damaged productionmachines were repaired, we employed other methods of sabotage.
This workshop was divided into different groups of mechanics, who were required to service certain departments in the factory, for which they were answerable. Thus, the Polish mechanic Imiołek and I were allocated to the steammachines for the infantry department. There, casings were joined to bullets for rifles and machineguns.
When a productionmachine malfunctioned, we repaired it in such a manner that it could then no longer be operated in high gear. We used to drag the repair out for as long as we possibly could and, when a part of the machine was damaged, we did not bring in a new part, but took out a similar part from another machine. Over the course of time, in this manner, we caused several machines to be put out of order. The fact that the German foremen trusted the Polish mechanic Imiołek aided us greatly in these acts of sabotage. [Even] in serious malfunctions, it was enough that he should certify the reasons, for the German foremen to take his opinion into account.
Another fact, which helped us, was that the unofficial foreman of the Maschinenbau mechanical workshop was the renowned Częstochowa locksmithmechanic Jakób Józefowicz. Józefowicz was the de facto workshop manager, because the German foreman acknowledged his great capabilities as a mechanic and favoured him greatly. This same foreman was later sent to Oświęcim, together with another German foreman, for having assisted a Jewish couple to escape from the camp.
Józefowicz was later sent, together with thousands of other Jewish labourers at HASAG, to Buchenwald, where the writer of these lines was also. Józefowicz was sent from Buchenwald with an external workforce, to be later brought back. Afterwards, he was [taken] away with a Jewish transport on the last journey, in which he perished, together with thousands of other Jewish concentration camp inmates.
Plans for an Active Resistance
The influence of the underground in HASAG spread further and began encompassing everwidening peripheries. Each group in its barracks, as well as each [individual] member of the underground, was given the concrete task of encouraging his closest neighbours in the bunk in which he slept, or at work. It was an obligation to report the Germans' constant defeats at the fronts and particularly at the Eastern Front. Different groups gradually began to organise. A group was established under the leadership of the renowned Bundist activist Liber Brener. A second group was created, headed by the active Poalei Zion Left activist Izrael Szymonowicz. Groups, which occupied themselves with cultural work, were also established.
Under these new conditions, the idea ripened to create a unified coordinatingcommittee of all the existing groups, to lead all resistance activity in the HASAGApparatebau camp. The coordinating committee which was established, consisted of five members: Adam Sztajnbrecher, Liber Brener, Jakób Wajnrajch, Ajzik Diamand and Izrael Szymonowicz. The creation of a unified organism in the camp encouraged all the active forces. The contacts with the outside world were also broadened and a stable connection was established with the Raków camp, through the active resistor Jacek Wiernik.
The unified coordinatingcommittee's first step was towards preventing the possibility of the camp being liquidated. It was decided that, if such were to be the case, we would put up an active resistance even though we had no weapons. According to the plan, with the beginning of the liquidation, a selected group would attack the security force's guardroom and disarm them. Simultaneously, larger groups were to cause an upheaval in the camp and call [others] to flee in direction of the [barbed] wire fences. The groups, who were to throw themselves on the wires, were to have special cutters prepared by Józefowicz, Widman and Sztajnbrecher. We took into consideration that such an operation would cost many victims, but we thought that, no matter how few managed to escape, it would also be a victory.
Events developed with incredible speed. The defeats of the Germans, at the fronts, [directly] impacted our conditions in the camp. Our plight worsened with every day. The bloody terror intensified from all sides both on the part of the foremen at work and by the security force after work. Herszel Użanski, our comrade from the underground, was murderously beaten by the foreman Oppeln Morsz. At the same time, rumours spread, one more gruesome than the next, concerning the fate of the camp and its labourers. The German foremen ran about like mad dogs, beating their slavelabourers. Each day brought new victims.
In one of the coordinatingcommittee's meetings, it was decided to implement the aforementioned plan of active resistance, if the rumours of liquidation were corroborated. All the groups involved received instructions regarding readiness for mobilisation. Meanwhile, we made efforts to attain accurate information from outside. We were interested, above all, in the situation on the Eastern Front, which was the nearest to us. We were also deeply engaged in the question of how it would be possible to hide the people who managed to escape from the camp during the [proposed] uprising. Due to the exacerbated situation at the camp, the Germans ceased to bring their radios in to the Jewish technician for repairs and we lost one of our most important sources of world news. At that same period, the mechanic Imiołek stopped coming to work in the camp and we lost our contact with the Polish side. Because of the stricter searches, the Polish labourers, who had always brought us newspapers and illegal literature, also stopped doing this. They did not wish to risk bringing even ordinary German newspapers.
On a certain day, we remained absolutely alone. The Polish workers no longer came to the factory and, all at once, we were completely cut off from the outside world. Before we were able to orientate ourselves in the newly created camp, squads of S.S., Gestapo, Schutzpolizei [uniformed constabulary] and the factory security force fell upon our barracks and everyone was driven out in the direction of the platform, where the [railway] carriages, which transported us to Buchenwald, already awaited.
Those Jews, who remained there, were liberated that very same day.
There were various workplaces in the Częstochowa ghetto, but the only place where Jews had the possibility of being saved and [actually] were saved, was the furniture camp [Moebellager], at the head of which stood Machel Birencwajg.
He was a man, in the true sense of the word, and a warm-hearted Jew. During the entire time during which the furniture camp existed, his life and that of his family were every minute in jeopardy, for his entire work was dedicated to helping to save young and old.
Machel Birencwajg had declared a silent war against the Nazi murderers.
The furniture camp consisted of various workshops and had [its own] separate transport-convoy, which had a special permit to move freely about the whole city. This entire group was infused with a spirit of heroism, which Machel Birencwajg had implanted in them. Their duty was to take the furniture out of the Jewish dwellings, following an akcja. When they found children there, whose parents had been taken away to their deaths, they concealed them inside chests and wardrobes and then took them to the furniture camp. They needed superhuman heroism for this, because it could mean going straight into the arms of the Angel of Death.
Machel Birencwajg and his brother Pinkus quite surreptitiously organised a network of bunkers in the furniture camp. [Only] those, who were 100% trustworthy, were engaged in this activity. In the first days, food was a problem - above all, for the children who were hidden. Machel Birencwajg and his family gave up their own reserves, until the convoy of porters smuggled in food.
When a large number of persons wished to save themselves [by going] to the Aryan side, the furniture camp was the only workplace from which it was possible to do so and Machel Birencwajg was the only Jew who helped and who gave others the possibility of helping to save people from death.
An Exceptional German
Every morning, when the labourers came to the furniture camp from the Small Ghetto, a German named Lange stood there. People called him Der Chazan [The Cantor]. He was responsible for the placówka [institution]. This German was the exception and he should be favourably mentioned. When Machel Birencwajg counted the groups, he would quietly ask him how many would be going over to the Aryan side.
Those unable to manage would return. Machel Birencwajg arranged [lodgings] with Christians for many children who, thanks to him, survived. Among them were Kurland's son, Brener's daughter, etc.
The Jewish Fighting Organisation (ŻOB)'s best recourse for being in contact with the outside world was through the furniture camp. All this, Machel Birencwajg knew and permitted. This was superhuman heroism on his part.
But the only gate leading to freedom, too, was eventually closed. Machel Birencwajg, his wife and his elderly mother paid dearly for their good hearts and for risking their lives to rescue others.
The following details are known regarding his last minutes:
Chanka Kongrecki, with her two children, were in one of the bunkers in that building. Her little boy would often go outside the bunker and his mother simply could not hold him back.
One day, he was caught by the Germans and, frightened by their threats, showed them the bunker's location. As a consequence, Chana and her children, as well as all the other people in the bunker, were shot.
On 19th March 1943, the foe Degenhardt, with his band of helpers, came out of the blue into the partisans' room and, after conducting a search, found weapons there. Six victims from the finest figures of Częstochowa youth fell on that occasion: Moniek Flamenbaum, Alek Herszberg, Jerzyk Rozenblat, Heniek Rychter, Janek Krauze and Szlamek Szain.
Apparently, the Germans had been informed of the goings-on at the furniture camp and, on the second day of Shavuos 1943 [10th June], the Schutzpolizei arrived, led by the arch-hangman Degenhardt, may his name be obliterated, in order to liquidate the furniture camp for good.
Degenhardt ordered Machel to gather his relatives together, but Birencwajg understood what this meant. He went off to call his relatives, as it were, but he immediately disappeared. As the Germans were unable to find him, they shot his mother on the spot, as well as other people. His wife Chanka was driven away in a freight vehicle to the prison in Zawodzie, where she too was shot. They hacked Pinkus Birencwajg's teeth out and ordered him not to move from the spot - or everyone would be shot. In the wild pursuit after Machel, they forgot about Pinkus. Together with other labourers, he went to the ghetto, where he hid for some time with a group of partisans. He later went away with Aryan papers to work in Germany, where he awaited liberation.
Meanwhile, Machel, had hidden in a back yard of the furniture camp and the Germans had not found him. His closest friends maintained contact with him and he told Leon Zilbersztajn to bring him a bit of jewellery from a hiding-place, with which he believed he would save himself. Machel went to hide with a good Pole of his acquaintance, who betrayed him. He called the Gestapo and Machel was arrested. He was taken to prison, where many Jews sat, including Yidl Kolin, who lives in Israel. Mr Kolin recounts that, when Machel found out that his nearest and dearest had been killed, he lost the courage to fight and was shot in the gaol courtyard.
Chanka Birencwajg was also arrested with a young woman [named] Sobe Rozenzaft. She, too, was shot in the prison courtyard.
In the history of the martyrs of Częstochowa, Machel Birencwajg will be entered as a hero and all those, who survived thanks to him, will never forget this heroic figure.
Due to the massarrests of Bundists in the entire General Government, in August 1941 I fled my home town of PiotrkówTrybunalski.
After several days and nights of wandering, I arrived in Częstochowa, where I remained until the end. Over the course of time, I began working under the orders of the Bund's illegal headquarters in the Częstochowa underground movement. Together with a series of activists from other parties, we worked out plans on how to organise a resistance movement in the Big Ghetto and, later, in the Small Ghetto.
Our fellow members, Brener and Kusznir, were extremely active. They called upon the Jewish workers to not bow their heads down, but to conduct a struggle against the brown murderers by any means and under any circumstances.
We perpetrated a series of acts of sabotage. I worked at loading and unloading carriages with various materials which were sent to the Eastern Front. At the Heeresbau [military construction] division, we loaded, onto carriages, delft tiles for cookers, which were to be set up in bunkers at the Eastern Front. We worked in such a fashion, so that when we packed the tiles in, we put them in the middle of the carriage, leaving enough empty space next to the walls, so that, with the first wobble, everything was broken. We did this with all the materials which we loaded. We caused damage wherever possible.
The Poalei Zion (Zionist Socialists) youth [group] Freiheit, to which I belonged, conducted a multibranched cultural activity among the working youth. Members travelled to receive training and then to the Land of Israel. We participated in all enterprises for the League for a Working Land of Israel, Keren Kayemeth, Keren HaYesod, elections to the Zionist Congress, etc.
With the introduction of the Nazi hordes, the entire work was halted. The members Szyja Stroz (Chairman) and Dawid Kaufman (Secretary), who stood at the head of the party, were forced to leave their homes for fear of the Gestapo.
I received a letter from Stroz, [saying] that he had arrived safely in Lithuania but, since then, all traces of him disappeared.
In September 1942, after the selection, we were brought to Golgota [the cinema next to Jasna Góra] under heavy escort, where we, the members of Freiheit, Gordonia, [and] Ha'Shomer Ha'Tzair, stuck together, like one family. We shared everything we owned.
In the Small Ghetto, the Freiheit movement helped to organise the kibbutz, and fives were created. Our instructor was Simek Abramowicz. My five comprised Wolf Pressman, Izrael Slomnicki, Awigdor Szyldhaus, Dawid Kantor [and] Abram Wirsztel. Of all these, I was the sole survivor.
Many members went to the forest and we provided them with good boots and warm clothes. All this was carried out with huge effort and risking our lives.
In the Small Ghetto, a cache of various weapons was created, as well as of German uniforms, boots, helmets, etc. The stash was in a tunnel at Nadrzeczna 88, but the Germans discovered it and, as a result, numerous comrades fell.
Those remaining in the ghetto were transferred some to Raków and others to HASAGPelcery. My wife and I were among those taken to HASAG, where the labourers were held in horrifying conditions, hunger and filth. Typhus spread and it did not spare my brother and me.
On 15th January 1945, we were sent to Buchenwald.
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