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[Page 227]

Chapter 8

Destruction and Holocaust

 

This is how we were taken captive before the enemy
(with the entry of the Germans into Gorlice in September 1939)

by Yoel Rappoport

Translated by Chana Saadia

One of the only radios at that time in Gorlice was [owned] by David Peterfreund, who lived in Reb Leibush Roth's house. The news that we heard from Radio Warsaw on that Friday, 1/9/38, was encouraging: the Polish Army stands ready to repel any attack…England and France are ready to help –etc. In high spirits we gathered at the “kloyz” (the Beis Medrash [study hall called] “Agudas Achim”) in [the neighborhood called] Zawodzie for the Friday night prayers. The prayer service went as usual, but after the prayers the men divided among themselves the hours of the night for shifts of guard duty, as ordered by the [Gorlice] Municipality. I was on guard duty from 1 to 3 after midnight. I took along my landlord's dog, which guarded the courtyard, tied with a leash to my hand, and I patrolled the streets from the bridge until Reb Matis Trencher's house on the road to Sokol, and until Aharon Englader's house on the road to Ropitza. We were two [men together] on guard duty. Just before the bridge we saw the Polish intelligentsia, mainly officials of the County with their wives and children, each one with a back pack, flocking to the Regional Ministry office building. We immediately learned from one of them that the Germans had invaded the country and crossed all of the borders, and according to their reckoning they would enter Gorlice on Sunday, so cars were provided for the officials and they were all traveling east.

 

The city emptied

Immediately we went to wake up Rabbi Moshe'ly Miller in order to ask his advice on how to act, as he was well–known for his cleverness and he could decide [for us]. His answer was: “Today is the Sabbath and there is nothing to be done, we will see tomorrow what will happen.” In my tired condition this answer was to my taste, and I went to sleep. At about 5 in the morning I woke up and heard noise in the courtyard. I got up and went out. I saw all of the residents of the house (which belonged to Reb Leibush Roth and was one of the important houses in Zawodzie, and had many tenants) walking around dressed and conferring with one another. I went over and asked: What happened? I was answered: “You caused all of this panic and you still ask?” Apparently Rabbi Moshe'ly Miller changed his mind, and when he realized the gravity of the situation he decided: “a time to act…” [1] and that people must leave the city, as we knew from the previous war that Gorlice is a natural place [for an army] to defend, as it is surrounded by mountains. Immediately the young men spread out to the villages to look for means of transportation. In the afternoon they returned, those who succeeded came on wagons pulled by one or two horses, while those who didn't find transportation returned on foot. My brother Leibush also returned, dressed in his silk Sabbath clothes, in a wagon with two horses. Rabbi Moshe'ly Miller, who was in charge of us from birth, issued an order that everyone wait until dark [after the Sabbath], and meanwhile we prayed the afternoon prayers and didn't skip our third Sabbath meal and its songs. When the first stars appeared in the sky we made Havdala [2] over the cup of wine and immediately began loading the wagons with pillows and quilts. Where should we go? It wasn't important, as long as we left the city. We decided to travel to Moszczenica [about 9 km. N.W. of Gorlice], because a Jew living there put a large room at the disposal of our townspeople, and several families could be housed there. I decided not to leave but to remain in order to guard the apartment and the store. My father didn't oppose my plan, so I stayed, for the first time to sleep alone in our one–room apartment, which was always full [of people]. The next morning my father returned, and explained that my mother and my two brothers and several other families had settled into one room, and since he didn't see the point of sitting idle in the village, he decided to remain with me.

During that day the city almost emptied. On the following day, on Monday, the offices didn't function, and there was an atmosphere of “every man will do as he sees fit”. A rumor passed from person to person that it would be best for young men to leave the city, because when the Germans entered the city they would take all of the young men for forced labor. Then I decided that it was my turn to leave. I went on foot to Moszczenica to say goodbye to my family and to take some clothing and supplies for the journey. I found a strong walking stick and a back–pack, and my mother put in it several shirts and pairs of socks wet with her tears, and I set out to wander the land.

 

The Germans are coming…

On my way back from Moszczenica to Gorlice I saw at a distance a barefoot Jew walking, with his bag for his tallis and tefillin [3] tied on his back. From the embroidered [Hebrew] initials A.A. [4] on the bag I recognized Abush Ainhorn, because when I was a child he told me that the initials stood for Avraham Avinu [5]. I knew that for over a year he had been living in Krakow because of a court judgment forbidding him to live in Gorlice, which is situated less than 30 km. from the Slovakian border, because [he was convicted] of dealing in goods smuggled without payment of customs duty, but his family had remained in Gorlice. When I caught up with him he told me that this was the fourth day of his journey on foot from Krakow. Every day he walked about 40 km. and by the following day the Germans had occupied the area which he had passed on the day before. He also said that from now he would remain in Gorlice because he didn't have the strength to run, and because there was no use in running as the Germans were advancing rapidly, and he advised us also not to run away. When we entered Gorlice we met thousands of Polish soldiers retreating, In the middle of the Market Square a tall Polish officer stood and ordered in a loud voice: “All the reservists to Jaslo!” I was not a reservist yet, and I slipped through side streets until I reached home. I immediately went up to see Rabbi Moshe'ly Miller. I found him in a meeting with Rabbi Wolf Bergmann, David Yohannes, Mendel Parnes and several other Jews. They were discussing the problem – to run away or not? I told them of my encounter with Abush Ainhorn, and they decided to remain [in the city]. On the following day there remained several tens of Polish soldiers, who began looting. When they met one of the few Jews remaining in the city they laughed at him: “Soon Hitler will come for you.” At 10 AM the last soldiers left the city, and with them left most of the non–Jews.

At 5 in the evening we heard the sound of motors and we shuddered, knowing that “they” were arriving. In fact, half an hour later suddenly thousands of German soldiers poured into the city from all directions in a terrifying satanic parade, singing victory songs which froze the blood in our arteries. At each turn [in the road] they stopped, and after they sent a patrol of 3 soldiers to the next turn they continued on their way.

[Page 228]

Thus they reached the bridge at the same time from both directions. They caught 3 Jews and ordered them to cross the bridge in front of them because they suspected [that there were] mines, and only afterward the soldiers crossed.

The next day a decree was published by the municipal government, on German orders, [directing] that all stores must open and that life should continue as usual. Gradually, those Jews who hadn't been able to get far from the city returned and opened their stores. The Germans raided the stores and bought [merchandise], some with money and others with force. The road to Bardejov in Slovakia was opened, and goods were brought from there, such as sugar, flour, etc., of course at exorbitant prices.

 

The first decrees

On the eve of the Jewish New Year all Jews between the ages of 18 to 35 were ordered to report at 7 every morning to the courtyard of City Hall, for work. This work was more degrading than useful; we swept the streets, carried piles of garbage from place to place, cleaned toilets, etc. etc.

Rabbi Moshe'ly Miller applied to the German commander of the city to permit the Jews to gather for prayers in the synagogue on the Day of Atonement. The permit was given, but the priest Swinkowski secretly notified the Jews that they shouldn't dare gather in the synagogue on the eve of the Day of Atonement, as he had heard from a reliable source that a trap was being prepared. In the afternoon of the eve of the Day of Atonement the first groups of the Gestapo entered Gorlice. Until then we had only dealt with the Wermacht (the regular army). On the night of “Kol Nidre” [6] they [the Gestapo] attacked the synagogue, which was empty of Jews, according to the advice of the priest, [who was] one of the righteous gentiles. [The Gestapo] took out their anger on the wood and the stones: they broke up all the furniture, smashed the light fixtures, dirtied the walls, etc. This wasn't enough for them, until they caught several Jews on the night of “Kol Nidre”, took them to their office in the railroad station building, and beat them murderously as their wickedness dictated, but then released them. I too was among them. An entire book would not be long enough to describe the sights of those hours.

On Sukkos there was one esrog in the city, brought from Bardejov in Slovakia by D'jonek Englard (son–in–law of Chaim Dagan, who is now in Israel).

 

A horrible picture

One picture from those days is engraved in my memory. When I returned home from sweeping the streets on the eve of Sukkos, I saw a man sitting at the table in our house drinking tea – his face was shaved, he had a thick grey mustache and a large skull–cap on his head. The large velvet skull–cap definitely didn't go with the clean–shaven face. I went over to my mother ob”m and whispered in her ear: Who is that? She answered out loud, so that the man could hear, “Maybe you know this man?” and I recognized him from his slight smile – but he immediately burst out crying like an infant. It was our neighbor Rabbi Avraham Wild, who the Germans had caught and shaved his beard, and from that day this became a frequent occurrence.

In the home of Reb Leibush Roth there was a bunker which had been built as an air–raid shelter in the time of the Polish rule. This shelter served as a place of prayer, since the study halls in the city were serving as barracks for the German army and the Great Synagogue was being used to stable their horses.

From day to day life became more difficult. At the end of October a notice was published ordering all of the Jews to register, and this registration was the cause of great fear. At that time I escaped from the city along with other Jews, and we came to where we came to – which is a chapter all by itself.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Psalm 119\126 is often interpreted as meaning that in time of emergency a person can ignore the Biblical commandments – in this case, the prohibition to travel on the Sabbath return
  2. Prayers at the end of the Sabbath return
  3. Prayer shawl and phylacteries return
  4. A.A. א.א return
  5. the Patriarch Abraham return
  6. the prayer beginning the evening service on the Day of Atonement return


[Page 237]

The first victims among the Jews of Gorlice

by Sala Schwartz Schop

Translated by Chana Saadia

Even before the Germans entered the town on September 6, 1939, the Jews, who knew Hitler's aims, panicked. Whole families fled eastward, to L'vov. When the Germans arrived they took the rule of the town into their hands, and appointed a Jewish committee (called a Judenrat), headed by the lawyer Dr. Arnold z”l.

In the group of Jews who died in those first days were: Dagan Salomon, Rubin David, Ginzburg, Dr. Grobner Tolek and others, who were shot to death beyond Dinov during their attempt to escape from Gorlice, when they were overtaken by the German Farnichtungrupe. In the second group were young men who were caught in the city: Kolber Leibek, Zigler Tolek, Freidrich Reuven and others who were grabbed on the streets and sent on busses to a place from which they did not return, immediately after the first SS entered the town.

The Jews who remained in the town were terrified. The Germans began to destroy the Jewish economy. The local government didn't react to these events. The Germans appointed trustees over Jewish businesses and stores. The enemy passed a series of evil and degrading decrees: the Jews were forced to wear on their arms a white band with a Jewish star, and near the bridge by the entrance to the city park a sign proclaimed “No entrance to Jews and Gypsies”. Not one Jewish doctor was left in the city. The anti-Semitic Dr. Otensky “repented” of his previous attitude to the Jews, and became the doctor of the Jewish families, even risking his life by entering the ghetto to help the Jews. The general Polish attitude to the Jews was indifference; non-Jewish neighbors willingly accepted guardianship over Jewish property, assuming that it would ultimately remain in their possession. Only in 1940, when the first groups of Polish youth and intelligentsia were shipped to concentration camps, to Auschwitz and others, did the Poles understand that the Germans intended to destroy them too. From then on their attitude to the Jews changed a bit, and there were some (Poles) who helped the suffering Jews.

By the end of 1939 the first victims of the deportations from Lodz arrived in town, marked by a yellow badge on their shoulders. They came completely destitute, and there was as yet no organized help from the Jewish authorities, so they were lodged with Jewish families. The Germans turned all the synagogues into warehouses, and the Jews prayed in small minyanim [quorums of 10 men] scattered around town. One Saturday in January 1941, as Jews were returning home from prayer, the first incident of shooting Jews on the streets openly took place, and there were several victims.

 

Activity of the Judenrat

Dr. Arnold didn't remain at the head of the Judenrat for long. As a committed Zionist and a man of high moral character, he could not carry out the oppressive orders of the Gestapo against the Jewish population, and he too was persecuted and tortured by the Gestapo, he left and even evaded death several times. His place was taken by other citizens who did carry out the orders of the Gestapo. The first such order was to surrender to the Germans all furs in possession of Jews, under penalty of death for refusal. The enemy needed these furs on the Russian front. Many Jews sabotaged this action by secretly burning their furs, but most turned in their furs because they feared the death penalty. In the one incident in which furs were hidden, someone told the Germans, and the victims were of the Meinhard family (Eylon, daughter of the shoemaker Bergman from the marketplace). The parents and the two children were shot to death behind the park.

 

A victim of an informant

Ida, the daughter of Israel Feldmesser z”l, who was the sole source of support of her family, dealt in trade despite it being forbidden to the Jews, and her customers were Jews from Tarnow. The poor woman was the victim of tale-bearing by a militiaman working for the Gestapo, who was looking for such victims – and there were other similar informants.

[Page 238]

Ida was arrested and jailed in Tarnow along with Wallach, the son-in-law of Akiva Schwimmer. She was interrogated and severely tortured, and finally killed. Wallach was released by a miracle, but not for long – he was burned in the furnace in Belzec.

Members of the Jewish militia in Gorlice generally behaved honestly, and aided the suffering Jews as much as they possibly could. But the condition of the entire community became more and more difficult. Jewish refugees from the large cities, such as Krakow and others, began streaming into Gorlice, and the over-crowding grew. A limited neighborhood – a ghetto – was created from Strozowska Street, [including] all of Dworzysko until the Ropa river. Several families lived together in one room. One doctor came from Krakow – Dr. Feldmaus, the son-in-law of Rabbi Rappoport of Krakow – and he worked day and night to help the sick.

1942 was a terrible year, which saw the complete extermination of the Jews of Gorlice. In June, 1942 the community was ordered to deliver to the conqueror by way of the Judenrat a large amount of cash and jewelry that was still in Jewish hands. The Germans conducted thorough searches of houses and confiscated all Jewish possessions. This was in preparation for the final extermination, which came on August 15, 1942, the day of the greatest tragedy for the Jews of Gorlice.

 

The black day

Before dawn on August 15, 1942 a company of Ukrainians serving in the German army arrived in the city and surrounded the ghetto. Some Jews who were close to the Judenrat knew about the coming aktzia, and hid themselves. My family and I heard much movement during the early hours of August 15th from the apartment of the family of the chairman of the Judenrat; this aroused our suspicions, despite the fact that they didn't warn us about the coming aktzia, even though we lived in the same building in the ghetto. Thus we were slightly prepared when the Ukrainians broke into our home and forced us out at gunpoint to the marketplace – Dworzysko. We hid my mother of blessed memory in the cellar, certain that my husband and I would be released because of our professions. To our sorrow we did not return; the apartments were sealed with lead and the Jews transported to Belzec to the gas chambers.

I return to the aktzia…

The entire gang of the Judenrat was taken under false pretenses by the Gestapo as if to a hiding place, to their villa “Shklarzikovka” behind the church. But from there they were taken to a grove of trees near the military cemetery and shot to death one by one, apparently because the Germans didn't trust Jews who collaborated with them and who knew their secrets. All the [other] Jews were gathered in the marketplace and ordered to kneel or sit on the ground, under the burning sun, and kept there without water or food from 5 AM until 3 PM. Naked and barefoot men were dragged from their beds into the street by the soldiers.

Among other terrible pictures in my memory I see the director of the Craftsmen's Bank, Shimon Ulman, carrying a child in his arms, half naked and wrapped in a blanket, beaten and chased into the central square, not knowing what was going to happen. There were many incidents like this. Masses of frightened people filled the square.

The Gestapo arrived from the nearby city of Jaslo, and made a selektzia of all [the Jews of] the city. The Gestapo order states: all those under the age of 35 must stand apart, with the professionals at the head of the group. This was the group destined to live, but only for the short time of three weeks. Among these lucky people was my husband, Nathan Schop, and he was able to save me as his wife without children, and they allowed me to stay alive. Another group was the elderly and the sick people, and for them a truck immediately appeared, onto which these unfortunate people were thrown like bundles of cargo.

Again I see engraved in my memory a terrible picture: two Ukrainians holding a paralyzed woman in a sheet – the mother of my friend Friedman Esther, the wife of Yechiel Friedman – and throwing her on top of those already in the truck like a ball or a bale of hay. All these unfortunate people were immediately shot to death in a forest near Strozowka which is in the nearby town. Most of the population, composed mainly of mothers with children and others over the age of 35, was meant to die in the gas chambers of Belzec. A group of soldiers pushed them all into the former shoe factory, which they turned into a transit camp, to which they transferred all of the Jews from the area and the surrounding towns who had been expelled from their homes and in this way the Germans prepared them for transport to Belzec. While transferring them to the camp they killed the people who were unable to walk, among the victims were Mrs. Korv – Yankel's wife, Mrs. Birn – Andji Tannenbaum's mother, and others.

Here I must mention that I was very active during this aktzia in the square. I fought bravely and pleaded with the head of the Gestapo to free my father, but nothing helped and he was sent with the transport. Fella Gorfinkel, the daughter of Mordechai Itche Shubin, also shouted – she had better possibilities than I had, but from shock in the square she lost her wits and screamed: “My parents and my grandmother are doomed to die!” This unfortunate grandmother, Chaya Rivkah Klein, lived all her life in Israel, and in her old age wished to be with her family, and here she was shot to death with the sick people.

During this selektzia I was set down by a typewriter to list the people who were to be left alive. A person who had some courage and cleverness could save himself by joining the group of those to be left alive. I managed to add to this list several people, who spent time in the concentration camps and are alive today. This group of people who were meant to be left alive was pushed into the ghetto, in the “Garbarnia”.

The transfer of the Jews to Belzec took two days. Many hid in the forests and in the surrounding villages, but this was useless in the Gorlice area, and they returned knowing that they were going to die. My mother of blessed memory was brought to me to the ghetto by non-Jewish Poles, after terrible suffering in a hiding place, but the surviving members of the Judenrat refused to let her remain with me. My poor mother was sent, along with Fayge Pass, Professor Fogel's wife and the wife and children of Feivel Schwimmer, to the camp, to death.

I remained alive, alone of my large family. My two sisters with their children and husbands died in Belzec, where they were sent with transports from Tarnow and Tuchow. The youngest, Miriam, who had British citizenship, managed to escape to Eretz Yisrael on the day that WWII broke out, but the poor woman died here and didn't get to see me when I arrived here. My only and beloved brother, Monek-Mordechai, who twice came to Eretz Yisrael but could not succeed here and returned [to Poland], met his death of hunger in the Yanow concentration camo in L'vov. I, with my husband, hid as a non-Jew and exchanged letters with my brother with the help of non-Jews, posing as an acquaintance. Here I am inserting part of a letter he sent me, dated April 24, 1943.

[Page 239]

 

Mordechai (Monek) Schwartz
In the machine room of the Schhwarz factory

 

The cry of a brother to his sister

…“this is the third letter I am writing to madam, pleading with you to save me at any cost as a long-time acquaintance. I thank God that madam has come out whole and successfully from this hell. I unfortunately am very miserable, suffering from hunger and with an infection in my right lung, spitting blood, legs swollen, in need of medical help and above all I shout: I am hungry! And no one can help me and no one can save me except you, dear madam. Please consult with friends, all my inheritance is at your disposal. I want to live! Have pity on my unfortunate life, why must I die already? My soul yearns for life, perhaps God will see a miracle and I will remain alive. Oh, how I yearn to see that day!” To my sorrow he did not merit this, and died in 1943,

 

My father died bravely

My father, Nathan Schwartz, resisted the conquerors and did not want to go willingly to die. He died as a Jewish hero at the age of 68. This was the topic of conversation of all the Polish population of Gorlice. He tried to save himself by attempting twice to escape from the train to Belzec, but evil people told the Germans about him. The Germans had no way of dealing with this brave Jew, and after beatings and tortures they shot him to death. The militiaman M. Pencak, who brought the bodies in a wagon to the Jewish cemetery in Gorlice, was witness to this, but I don't know where he was buried, as Pencak himself was killed two days later by a bullet of the Gestapo,

 

The day of the final extermination

The final extermination, and the “solution” to the question of the Jews in Gorlice, came on September 9, 1944. The remaining Jewish workers who were still employed in the tar-paper factory owned by Pesel and in the lumber factory “Hobag” owned by Yisrael Geller, were taken to the airplane factory in Meilitz. There, several Jews – Professor Monek Blech, Yechezkel Blech, Oscar Geller, the lawyer Wilk Geller – planned an escape from the camp. But they didn't succeed and were shot to death on the spot. The city was empty.

My husband and I remained alive due to our strong will-power, since as long as I was alive I refused to consciously surrender to death, and good people among the non-Jews helped us, and thanks to them we survived this hell on earth. My only purpose in life was – [to meet] my sister Miriam [who was] living in Eretz Yisrael. But this was not our lot, because the unfortunate woman died when she was only 29. Her monument in Israel is at the same time a monument to my whole family, whose ashes mixed with the ashes of all the millions of those [Jews who were] incinerated fertilizes the earth of Poland, which is soaked in Jewish blood. Their holy memory I have brought in my heart to our only grave – that of Miriam Ramo in the Nachlat Yitzchak Cemetery, Tel-Aviv, in the soil of our free homeland that the Jews have won.

 

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