« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

 

[Page 249]

 

[Page 251]

The End of the Community

by Dr. Moshe Gross (Henryk Zeligowski)

In memory of my parents Rachel and Bernard,
My sisters Devorah and Madzia,
And my nephew Jakob

 

KALISH
10-1939 – 8-9-7-1942

Hospital – Jew Camp – Labour Camp

 

After the Germans occupied Poland in October 1939, they began to implement their plans for the extermination of Polish Jewry by pillaging us of all our property and exploiting our strength to the very last. But they proceeded to do so step-by-step. Pending complete extermination, they set out to make maximum use of us for their war effort. They began by ascertaining the amount of Jewish property and restricting Jewish liberty.

 

The Judenrat

Their first step was to establish a Judenrat (Jewish Council) whose seat was at the Community Offices. Its members included: Luzer Mitz, Frankel, Katzinel, Advocate Perkal, Dr. Seid, Dr. Lubelski, Magister Rotzeig, the cantor of the 'German' Synagogue, Gustav Hahn, etc. A large staff of officials was promptly recruited to secure maximum promptitude and accuracy. A detailed register of the Jewish population of Kalish was prepared with precise data about property and numbers of old people, sick, children, craftsmen, intellectuals, physicians and lawyers.

New orders, censuses, lists, demands for war compensation to be paid in paper money, gold and jewellery quickly followed one another. From time-to-time, the representatives of the Judenrat were summoned to the Gestapo offices in Jasna Street and always returned with new proscriptions and orders.

Jewish shops and factories were repeatedly robbed and looted in broad daylight. However, the collection centres at the Municipality, Police and elsewhere were never full because trains loaded with Jewish property departed for Germany every day. Work, crafts and trade quickly came to a complete standstill. Wealthy people buried their valuables as best they could in the earth or in walls; or else, they sold them and fled from the city hoping to find better things elsewhere. But most of the population were poverty-stricken and simply resolved to put up with the oppression and persecution and wait for the end of the war.

Every day, a number of young men were requisitioned for labour. There were few volunteers and so the gendarmes would complete the quota by frequent manhunts. The Jews were required to empty Jewish shops, clear away ruins, clean the streets, restore destroyed buildings, clean barracks, police stations,

[Page 252]

Gestapo offices, etc. Sometimes they were required to bury those sentenced to death and shot in the Jewish cemetery. Treatment of these Jewish workers in Kalish was precisely the same as elsewhere. Once, for instance, the Gestapo ordered us to jump about on all fours and bark at the tops of our voices. On another occasion, we had to punch one another as hard as we could and anybody who was found cheating was generously assisted with rifle-butts. The Germans treated the members of the Judenrat in a similar fashion, and their numbers rapidly diminished. The only ones left were those who had no opportunity of running away and others who found the activities desirable in various respects. Many of the younger generation made up their minds to cross the frontier.

We gradually grew accustomed to such daily sights as shearing off the beards of old Jews, street-chases for forced labour and kidnapping for the 'Shelter'. The latter was in the Municipality and was generally dreaded. Those taken there were beaten until they fainted. Young Jewesses were often taken there and ordered to undress, to the delight of drunken gendarmes and soldiers under the guidance of the notorious Mayor Grabowski, a bestial sadist. He played a major part in the destruction of the Jews of Kalish and the vicinity. For several years he was the chief instrument of the Gestapo and the equally satanic Gesundheitsamt (Health Office) and faithfully and efficient carried out all orders received. In this, he was assisted by a large band of officials of various origins.

In general, there was a state of sheer confusion and alarm which the Germans were interested in maintaining and they may have started many rumours for that purpose. Thus, early in November, a rumour spread from mouth-to-mouth that a ghetto was to be established in a very small area. This led to a prompt movement of the population to the indicated quarter away from the centre of the city and the major streets. On 15th November, tenants in certain streets were given a few moments to pack up and were led under guard to the monastery. Within a few days, the tenants of scores of houses in various parts of the town were uprooted in this way. The confusion increased when the order to wear the yellow badge was published.

 

The Market Hall

On 20th November, entire streets were cleared with the aid of several hundred gendarmes from the vicinity. A few moments were allowed for packing belongings and then everybody had to get out into the street. Within a very short while we were marching in threes under the guard of armed gendarmes. Then we found ourselves within the crowded 'Market Hall' where there were already many thousands. In another few moments, the mass of people were being kicked and forced back with rubber truncheons so as to make room for newcomers.

Money and jewels that had not been very well hidden had already been pillaged in the course of 'searches for weapons'. Packed as tight as herrings in a barrel, we could not even sit down. We trod on one another and kicked one another amid oaths and cursing. The little children wept; the bigger ones shrieked, the grown-ups shouted and people began fighting about a scrap of pavement or a lost bundle. Sick people moaned and the dying

[Page 253]

Groaned while above all rose the roaring of the drunken gendarmerie. During that endless night it was rumoured that we were to be sent to work in Germany or to the General Government. But actually, this was only the first large-scale action and nobody could foresee what was to follow.

Sure enough, the first groups were taken out the next day and led under guard to the station where they were packed like herrings in trains setting out for Warsaw, Rzeszow (Reisha) and elsewhere in the East. But others were brought to take their place. Many people decided that it was impossible to remain in Kalish and requested and received permission to go direct from their homes to the railway station.

 

I. The Jewish Hospital

The authorities permitted patients, those suffering from contagious diseases, the aged and the crippled to be housed in the Jewish Hospital for the time being. This hospital was set up early in November in its former building by order of the German Chief of Police and the Gesundheitsamt. Dr. Seid took charge. Both the building and the equipment were in ruins. Jewish joiners, plumbers, mechanics and painters engaged in the restoration work which progressed well. The public contributed money, linen, bedding and kitchenware. The Jewish doctors contributed the medical equipment. Beds were brought from all over town and the first ward was opened. Yet, each family preferred to keep its sick at home. But after the first transports, people realised that hospitalisation enabled the patients to remain in Kalish for the time being and they desperately clung to this last hope. So the wards and even the corridors filled up.

The patients were treated by Dr. Seid, Dr. Plotski, Dr. Lubelski and Dr. Devora Gross-Shinagel. The remaining Jewish physicians showed less interest either because they were preparing for flight or else were afraid of accepting any responsibility whatever.

After Dr. Seid left on 20th November, my older sister, Dr. Gross-Shinagel took charge. Drs. Beatus and Gath and Mrs. Walachowicz offered their help, but disappeared a few days later. Dr. Gross continued in charge with the devoted and self-sacrificing cooperation of the former hospital nurses Lola Margulis (little Lola); Hala Eliasiewicz; Helena Storch; my younger sister Madzia Gross who had just returned from a German war prison after serving as a Red Cross volunteer in the Polish army; I myself and the medical student Alex Bloch.

Workers in the Contagious Diseases Dept. were: Mrs. A. Zhulti, Yetka Koppel and each one of us as far as possible. Several members of the service co-operated without a break and with complete devotion. They were Feivel Chapnik and his mother who worked in the kitchen; Opochinska and her daughter; Wroblewski and his wife; Zucker the tailor, Wolkowitch and Kalmanowitch.

It must be said that under the conditions prevailing, the hospital was a model institution which enabled it to carry out the important tasks laid upon it during the coming years. The statistics I kept as long as it functioned showed that about a thousand patients passed through, most of them very ill or suffering from contagious diseases. Many grave operations were carried

[Page 254]

out and thousands of injuries and wounds were dressed. Thousands of patients were given medical treatment and many children were born. Later, patients from the ghettos and camps in the vicinity came here for longer hospitalization. The well-equipped operating theatre, the clinic and pharmacy made things much easier. With the approval of the authorities, we engaged an Aryan woman pharmacist as our own pharmacist M. Green was transferred elsewhere. A few months later, the student Stella Lieberman took charge of the pharmacy besides helping in the Dispensary and the wards. The hospital laboratory was set up and conducted by Chemical Engineer Artur Shinagel and proved to be very valuable.

Administration was handled by Shmuel Arkush who afterwards became a member of the Altestenrat (Council of Elders). Subsequently he was assisted by Sender Zeidel who also made the purchases in town. The kitchen and laundry were managed by Mrs. Arkush who was assisted by Opochinska and her daughter, Mrs. Feivel and Mrs. Zeidel. Burials were performed by Berker, Prussak and Kowalsky. They had plenty to do as mortality was considerable at first. The gravely ill who were absolutely unable to travel were brought here from the Market Hall. There were also many old persons who had no resistance at all under these conditions. There were no burial ceremonies and few people were present.

This hospital became a strong unit with considerable independence and immunity. It also became a centre of the fading or vanishing Jewish life, being the last citadel which kept several hundred Jews in Kalish. The little synagogue of the hospital, and every room that could be used for dwelling purposes, were also filled very quickly. More than 150 patients were admitted. About 350 invalids, chronically diseased and old people were housed in the Talmud Torah. This institution was managed by Dr. Feigin-Danziger and she remained in charge until it was liquidated. Her faithful assistants were the Orderly Neuman, Male Nurse Green and his sister, Hella Nomberg, Irka Rosenfeld, Mrs. Somatitzka, Freedman the upholsterer, etc.

The more active of the old folk also helped as best they could. Administration was handled by Somatitsky, Skobron and Rosenfeld. This was actually a kind of Old Age Home though some wards and a dispensary were provided. But those really ill or suffering from contagious disease, or requiring operations, were sent to the hospital. The other old folk were housed in the former Old Age Home which was managed by the industrialist, Isidor Wiszniewskl, Landau (of the Guttstat family and Hahn. We also took over the Jewish Orphanage which had been emptied. It housed several dozen families, largely workers of the hospital and the Talmud Torah, their wives and children.

The Orphanage remained in its own place from the start of the War until 18th November, 1941 and was managed by Mrs. Ella. It housed about twenty orphans who were kept in exemplary cleanliness in spite of the difficulties. The older ones studied. Later they were employed in sewing and in the tailor's workshop.

Meanwhile, the last transport had left on 3rd November, 1939. By a heart-breaking chance, I saw them leave – that last grief-stricken caravan of wandering Jews exiled to an unknown land. It included many folk who were classified as “fit for transport” and were taken from the Talmud Torah. These, together

[Page 255]

with the people of the Old Age Home, some 120 in all, were sent to Lochow near Warsaw. We received letters from them for some time but do not know their final fate.

The Judenrat had virtually ceased to function during this period although a few individuals maintained contact with the Germans. The only Judenrat member left was Hahn, the “Jewish Elder” who was trusted by the Germans after all the honoured representatives of Jewish society had fled. He was coarse, lively and sharp-witted and won the approval of the Germans in whom he, in turn, largely believed on account of his ignorance.

Landau appeared and was very active from the beginning of the transportation. He knew many of the gendarmes because he had been arrested early in September and taken to the Reich as a “civilian prisoner-of-war”. During the transportation he was allowed to move around freely and arrange many official matters. He too skilfully won the confidence of the Germans. After the liquidation of the Old Age Home, these two, together with Isidor Wiszniewski (of the Ben-Zion Wartski family) were recognized as a Council of Elders. Wiszniwski took over supplies – Landau ran the Police and Hahn as Jewish Elder handled the Gestapo affairs. Shmuel Arkush, manager of the hospital, was appointed secretary.

To our great surprise, we were not transferred like the others to the General Government, possibly because the Jewish quarters of Warsaw, etc. had become congested and disorganized. Instead, Jewish camps were established in December 1939 and early 1940 at various places in our region (Warta, Turek, and Zdunska-Wola) each containing several thousand persons from the small towns. A larger camp of 2,500 was set up at Kozminek-Bornhagen which contained the Jews of Staviszin, Dobra, etc. This was headed by Haftka, Dudek, Knopf (chairman), Wilczinski and Roth. Health was handled by the orderly Grzemilas and later by Dr. Shalit who had escaped from Germany in 1938. Although it had a certain amount of independence, it was still under our authority in all respects for we retained the status of administrative and economic centre to the very end and became the most important health centre in the entire Kalish district. The authorities and District Physician Karsch took interest in our hospital and paid it many visits. We received considerable allocations of food and medical supplies for the patients and were also permitted to send them to the Municipal Hospital for special treatment, x-rays, pneumothorax, etc.

A typhoid epidemic began in Kosminek early in spring and Dr. Gross-Shinagel engaged in an energetic inoculation campaign extending to several thousand persons in the neighbouring camps. We had to isolate all actual and suspected patients and accordingly enlarged the Contagious Diseases Department considerably.

Immediately after Passover 1940, all Jews aged 10 or more were required to put on a yellow Shield of David 10cm in diameter with the word ”Jude” in the centre. These had to be sewn on firmly on the upper garment, one on the right-hand side of the chest in front and the other on the right-hand shoulder behind.

In spring 1940 many Jewish soldiers returned from the war prisons. Among them were: Julek Wolkowitch, Shmulek Rakowski, Preger, Dzialoszynski,

[Page 256]

Moshe Moshkowitch, Heniek Breuer, Heniek Bleshkowsk!i, Adolf Bloch, Leib Bejrach, Josef Diamant the shoemaker, Abraham Hirshbajn, Epstein and Smuliek Eliashewitch, the very experienced male-nurse of the former Jewish Hospital who immediately started working in our hospital.

The total number of persons in the camp rose to 150. From Kosminek camp about 100 men were sent to set up a labour camp at Opatowek and a few weeks later, a smaller labour camp of 30 men was set up at Stary.

In June, 1940, the Talmud Torah had to move to a building in P.O.W. Street N°13 (former Nowa Street) which had once served as a lace factory. Most of the apartments were ruinous and many of the larger halls were still full of machinery. However, the transfer was completed within three days by dint of great effort and the offices of the Wirtschaftsamt (Economic Department) were housed in the Talmud Torah. A few days later the Hospital and Orphanage were also ordered to move to Szopena Street N°4. The whole building was dismantled while the patients were still lying in the wards. Several weeks later the large “German” synagogue and the old cemetery were broken up. The tombstones were taken as building material for shelters and for street paving. The bathhouse and community buildings were also destroyed.

The hospital was reopened on a smaller scale and without an operating theatre. However, the demand for hospitalization also decreased and it now served chiefly as a Health Centre. Patients from the surrounding camps came for prolonged treatment, chiefly surgical cases and contagious diseases, i.e. typhoid and scabies. Luckily, we checked the typhoid by the inoculations which were renewed every six months.

 

II. Judenlager

Every day, a few score workers now proceeded to the work required by the Labour Office, breaking up old houses, paving roads in town, blocking the course of the Prosna from the theatre to Wodna Street, etc. The police and gestapo found work for a number of drivers and locksmiths: Moniek Lipinski, Shmulik Rakowski, Henek Brenner, Boobi Hahn, Leo Feigin and Aaron Winter. Every day our tailors and shoemakers, Berel Gross, Zelig Gross, Opas, Zucker and Schiller went off to the police workshops. Fuyara worked for an Ukranian who received permission to employ him. The housepainters Block Sr., Mendel Bloch and Adolf Block worked in the barracks ad at the police.

During the summer, our hospital and Old Age Home gradually turned into a Judenlarger where the Council of Elders exercised increasing authority. The nameplate of the hospital disappeared and was replaced by that of 'Arbeiter Kollone'. In order to increase the number of workers, the Council of Elders reduced the hospital staff to a minimum, disregarding requirements. The hospital management helped as best they could with this but in spring and autumn the percentage of patients increased and the staff could no longer do everything necessary. In spite of this, it was the practice to leave only one nurse for all the patients and the dispensary, arguing that the doctor could also go out to load up coal or dig. And indeed, a year later,

[Page 257]

when our situation was far worse, Dr. Gross-Shinagel also went out to work in the tailor's workshop, visiting patients only in the evening.

There was constant friction between the Council of Elders and the hospital from the very beginning. First the Council seized all power and authority. Then it fought openly against the hospital doctor and staff giving them reduced rations and claiming that they were idling. It also stopped paying their 'wages' which had originally been set at 50 Reichspfennig per day. Things were no better in the Old Age Home for the manageress, Dr. Feingin-Danziger and the rest of the staff who worked beyond their strength. It is possible that they were treated even worse. However, the Feldsher (Barber-surgeon) Neiman, in spite of his age, continued to attend patients and most skilfully extracted teeth besides running the only barber shop left. By this time, our Judenlager had taken on a regular pattern with 2 houses for the workers at POW St. 16 and 18; the hospital at Szopena 4 and the Old Age Home at POW St. 13 (the former Nowa St). A canteen was set up for odds and ends in addition to rations and for rations too. We were not permitted to go out into the town without a special permit. All official affairs were handled by members of the Council of Elders, the messenger Seidel and the Springer brothers. Still, many would steal out after removing the yellow badges in order to earn a trifle. Poles often visited us to do business thought this was also prohibited. We had no cultural life or entertainment and lived not for the next day but for the next moment, for we never had an instant free for leisure.

In June 1940, we were visited by Grabowski, former Mayor and now head of the Health Department, accompanied by gestapo men in uniforms. They inspected all the patients and made a note on the card of each one. They then announced that some of the patients would have to be sent to other towns where special hospitals and convalescent homes were being set up. To begin with, only the aged and chronic patients would be sent. Then they went their way leaving behind the usual depression that followed a visit by the gestapo.

During the summer, the number of workers increased to about 120 in all. Work was compulsory for every Jew aged 13-15 or upwards. Most of them went on sewing. The tailors, shoemakers, mechanics and drivers worked for the police or wherever there was work. As we had many excellent craftsmen, they were often sent to work in the homes of officials, gendarmes and gestapo men. This gave the Council of Elders excellent opportunities to establish contact with the various leading officials. More than once, some of the Jews succeeded in obtaining information, particularly about our camp. As a result, we often knew in advance about searches, orders and other oppressive acts which were being planned. Here much was done by Council member Vishnievski who found an entry to the home of the Mayor Fetzel and was well treated by Major Krauser, head of the Police and head of the Economic Department. Hahn also took his share in this. He won the confidence of Schönrogen, head of the Gestapo.

All this cost an untold amount in money and gifts.

That summer, we set up a dental clinic in the hospital which proved invaluable for teeth began to decay terribly on account of the lack of

[Page 258]

vitamins and other important elements in the food. An Aryan dentist came to the clinic twice a week by permission of the authorities. For a long time, her assistant was Zosia Freund.

At the same time the chemical laboratory of the hospital was developed and expanded by chemical engineer Arthur Shinagel. Our medical supplies were cut down from time to time but demand grew constantly with the arrival of patients from the vicinity and the surrounding camps. The laboratory began to manufacture its own preparations, particularly injections which were difficult to obtain. In autumn 1940 a big workshop was opened for the manufacture of wooden soles which carried out many orders for shops in Kalish and elsewhere. The workshop was founded by the brothers Abraham, Benek and Nathan Hirschbein.

We did our best to celebrate the festivals as well as we could. Prayers were held on the New Year and the Day of Atonement.

 

Arbeitslager

That autumn, the Germans decided to exterminate the sick and aged who could not work. It should be noted that they carried out their mass transportations and slaughter either in the autumn or in winter, apparently to reduce the danger of epidemics to a minimum. On 26th October, 1940, Grabowski arrived in our camp again and held a number of serious conversations with our representatives. He and his two Gestapo companions informed the Council that at 10 a.m. the following day, the patients selected by them for transfer to convalescent homes would be taken away. The patients had to be washed and dressed in fresh underwear. We did not need to worry about anything else and even bedding was unnecessary as everything had now been prepared. That day, our mechanics related when they returned from their work at Gestapo headquarters that a large number of strange Gestapo men had arrived with a mysterious large black lorry that was closed on every side and had no ventilation holes at all. It was easy to link these facts with the morning visit. We spent the day in feverish preparations, talks, discussions and leave-takings. There were still many optimists, hoping for the best but the majority were ill at ease and apprehensive. Yet, even the most pessimistic never foresaw that the entire 290 Jews who had been listed would be dead within a few hours.

The next day at precisely 10 a.m. on 27th October, a huge black lorry came to a standstill in front of the Old Age Home at N°13 POW St. Its roof was as high as the first storey. It looked like a great black coffin. Two shiny black cars brought Grabowski at the head of a gang of uniformed and unfamiliar Gestapo men. We had to fetch those who were called by name for they were mostly chronic patients and cripples. The Germans ordered us to carry them, seat the patients or stretch them on the benches within the lorry.

“When you come down the steps, be careful nothing happens to the patient!” “Take it easy, we're not in a hurry”. “Please put the man down here in the corner until he feels better!” Meanwhile, they saw to it that we should fill up the cold lorry. But they would not permit the younger folk to join their departing relatives.

[Page 259]

The metal doors were banged shut – the heavy bars were dropped in place and the large lorry set off silently but swiftly followed by the gleaming cars. The next day, 28th October, two more trips were made and about 110 persons were removed. Everything was done swiftly in order not to spoil the weekend. They must have grown tired of putting on a show and stopped being polite, calming the weepers with their whips and shooting at anybody who looked out of the windows. The only ones who did not feel the general apprehension and bitterness were the lucky insane.

The last two groups left on Monday, 30th October and included a few hospital patients. The chair of one of the old women was brought back on one of the trips. The Gestapo man who brought it explained, “She doesn't need it any longer because she's received a new one”. That day the Council of Elders was required to pay the cost of transport at the rate of four Reichsmarks a person and to arrange all matters connected with the departure of 290 persons at the Economic Office.

The Germans gave evasive replies to the repeated questions of the Elders as to where the people had been taken. “At the moment they are in transit camps and from there the will be sent to the permanent convalescent homes. As we don't know in advance who is being sent, you will have to be patient for a few days until everything is in order”. For many weeks we applied to the Krankenverlegung Institution which was supposed to deal with such matters but could not find out what had happened. Finally, we were told that news had just been received that a few of the old people had died of heart failure, brain fever or pneumonia. The rest were in Padernice and were in good health. But no map showed the spot because it did not exist.

Little by little we understood that we would never see the dead again unless we followed in their footsteps. After that we lived in a state of constant dread for we could see the sword hanging over our own heads and knew that we would go the same way sooner or later. The Germans were exploiting our working power but would clearly exterminate us too. The hermetically sealed gas-wagons which were first tried out on our old folk were about to commence the great action of “purifying” Europe of the Jews which was later perfected in the large extermination camps.

The old people, who had been choked by poison gas in the lorry while still on their way, were taken to the neighbouring forest and buried or burnt. It was rumoured that they had been buried near Winiary. Nobody knew precisely because the roads had been strictly blocked on that day, but it was clear that the action had taken place near Kalish for the lorries returned within three hours. However, as far as mass extermination was concerned, the experiment does not seem to have been too successful. It took too long and called for trouble and deception. It was not a way for finishing off eight million Jews “who were eating the bread of charity”. It was then that they began to build the huge concentration camps at Auschwitz, Treblinka and elsewhere with their modern death-chambers and furnaces. At the same time the Jews began to be concentrated into gigantic ghettos from which they could not escape. However, the gas lorries were kept for auxiliary

[Page 260]

purposes in the small towns from which it was not worthwhile transporting the Jews and we no longer had any illusions about our fate.

 

III. Arbeitslager

In order to remain alive we had to convince the Germans that they needed us for the time being and that we were good workers. So the Council of Elders was given permission to operate large tailoring and shoemaking workshops, the entire income of which went to the Wirtschaftsamt (Economic Office). There was ample room. One of the empty buildings at POW St. N°13 was refurbished. Machines were brought from all parts of the town for tailors, seamstresses and furriers together with other tools.

1. The Tailor Workshops. The tailors included: Zucker, Berl Gross, Selig Gross, Schiller, Ofas, the Neimann family, Berek Pilz and a few dozen more who were their assistants. The first sewing machines were soon whirring 'for the victory'. Several score were employed. The managers were my father, Berl Gross and Schiller. Later, the shop was expanded to sew women's clothes and underwear. This department was managed by Mrs. Arkush. We all understood the gravity of the situation and started working with all our strength. Even the old people helped for fear of new transportations. There were fewer people engaged in digging for they were all brought into the shops. Orders from German businesses in Kalish and elsewhere were plentiful and it was impossible to satisfy them all. In addition, many private orders were carried out. The best tailors sewed for the high officials who were swamped with gifts of clothing and other private 'mementos'. They were very important for they gained us help of one kind or another. We were visited by various supervisory delegations which came to ascertain the quality of the Jewish work and always left with hands full. The Volksdeutsch Woiciechowski, who was the manager of the Wirtschaftsamt, was a frequent visitor who was very pleased at our work because it increased both his private income and that of his department as well.

2. The Shoemaker's Workshop began operations early in 1941 and employed more than ten shoemakers and their assistants, including Katz and his son, Ruhr, Abeczadlo, Wygodski and Diamant. The workshop was managed by Mr. Freund of the Frenkel family. New shoes were made there; old shoes were repaired and all kinds of slippers, children's shoes, belts, bags, etc. were made from the waste which was brought from the local tannery. These products were excellently made and showed an exceptional inventive capacity which astonished the Germans. Later in the year they began the mass production of shoes with wooden soles which were also made from waste material. These soles were manufactured on the spot by the brothers Hirschbein. There was a big income from this branch as many large orders were received from Poznan and Ostrow.

3.In addition, a Hat Factory was founded and managed by the master craftsman, Bulka and young Schiller.

[Page 261]

4.The Furriers' Workshop. The furriers showed even greater energy and inventive capacity. The leading ones were: Yossi Baum, Yulek Wolkowitch and S. Kolsky. Apart from the various orders and 'presents' for the officials and their mistresses, furs were created here out of nothing. A few centimetres of fur trimmings, chiefly Caracul which the Germans had previously burnt, were used to make valuable articles. The trimmings and waste were brought from Berlin, cleaned and sewn together with much toil. There were plenty of machines and a great will to work. Everybody wanted to go on living.

By the following spring, production had doubled in every department. We were being urged on from every side though it was quite unnecessary. We were called on to do our best for the victory! And indeed, we were working for victory but for our own and not for theirs. Our camp was transformed into one huge factory, feverishly labouring and toiling in order to secure us all the right to live.

 

The Judenlager in Bornhagen-Kosminek

In those days, large workshops like our own were also established at Kozminek. However, they lacked expert workers and so did not develop so far nor did they give the local ghetto the aspect of a typical labour camp. In addition, there were 'too many' old people, women and children there and so Kozminek remained only a Juden-lager to the end.

Sanitary conditions in all these camps were very poor indeed. Doctor Shalit, the only physician, and Grzenilas, the Feldscher, could not handle all the work and so they sent many patients to us. Dr. Gross-Shinagel often had to go to the camps to help in difficult cases, receiving special permission from the authorities. We also went there twice a year to give inoculations against typhoid.

Contact between the camps was very close. They were all dependent on us in spite of the measure of autonomy found in each but we were linked by ties of mutual interests. They had horses and wagons with which they visited us twice a week to take the rations allocated to them by the Wirtschaftsamt; various goods, medicines from our dispensary which also served them and post. It should be noted that all this time we were permitted to send letters and parcels by post to other towns. We maintained contact with the other ghettos and in general knew what was happening there as far as the German censorship did not erase what was written.

Theoretically, only physicians and members of the Council of Elders were allowed to travel by special permit as well as patients. However, healthy people also travelled because the police could usually be bribed and illicit trade went ahead on a considerable scale. Hawkers would go out and would bring back butter, eggs and meat which could be bought more easily and cheaply if the authorities were not in the neighbourhood. Nobody paid attention to the penalties involved.

In general, the Kozminek Jews felt more at ease in their ghetto. There were more of them and they were not as shaken as we were by large-scale transportation, the removal of the old people and the endless oppression

[Page 262]

and extortion. Besides, the only Germans they saw were three local gendarmes. To begin with, they were not even interfered with when they celebrated Sabbath and Festivals. During Passover 1941, they had dry potatoes and coarse matzos for the Seder but the sanctity of the Festival was preserved. And surely, they thought, it would be the last Seder in wartime and next year in Jerusalem! Their only fear was the camp commandant, Buechler, a Volksdeutsch. He often burst into the ghetto when he was drunk and beat anyone he met with his stick. If anyone was found with an egg or a piece of butter, he was beaten and fined. If word came that the 'Greener' was on the way, they all hid like mice in their holes. The person in direct contact with him was our Council Elder Landau who was also controller of the Kozminek Judenrat.

Our own camp was directly under the Municipal Authorities and District Authorities in Poznan. The Kozminek Judenrat (with Knopf as Chairman and Roth, Dudek and Wilcymski) was generally hated by the Jews, like our own and all the others, and for identical reasons. In the Kozminek ghetto there were several Jewish policemen without caps and sticks, it is true, but in charge of the detention cell and enjoying the assistance of the German gendarmes.

In Kalish we had no Jewish police until the end. It was true that our Chairman Hahn called for volunteers and tried to recruit a number but there were none. Maybe because we were too few – maybe because the handful of survivors stood firm together.

That year, 1941, we had a peaceful but gloomy Passover. Each family had lost at least one of its older members. It was hard to obtain matzos. We did not receive a baking permit, and the Kozminek matzos which was baked by hand, was very expensive, while our potato supply was also scanty. Nevertheless, the truly observant Jews observed the festival in meticulous detail after a hard day's work; for nobody could even dream of release from work.

The only pleasure left to us after work was to walk about the large courtyard in front of N°16 POW St. or one of our buildings. Part of it had been cleared and planted with vegetables for the kitchen and the canteen. The fences were removed and the plot was expanded as far as the burnt flourmill of Kupfer so that the courtyard of the neighbouring house, n°18, was also added to it. This allowed the children to pass from house-to-house without going out into the street and infuriating the Germans. In addition, we could also pass from house-to-house at night without fear. There was another such courtyard at N°13 POW St. where grass actually grew though it was as thin as the faces of our children. However, there was no stench of sewage water there and it was farther away from the street and closer to the fields. Three times a day we were permitted to visit those houses and in any case, people did not pay particular attention to the regulations. Nor could the Germans really restrict our movements as the hospital was on one street, the canteen on another and the only kitchen and workshops stood separate. At first the brothers Asher and Simha Shepinger acted as doorkeepers but later they were transferred to the workshops.

[Page 263]

In spite of the prohibitions people would steal out into the town to sell something and buy a little food while some would visit Christian acquaintances to ask for something to eat. Naturally only those who had the right kind of appearance could venture this.

 

The Beginning of the End

The heat of June arrived. Endless military convoys, artillery, ammunition and aeroplanes had been moving eastward for several months. Though this looked as if it meant a conflict with Russia, there was no indication of it in the press. This went on until Sunday 22nd June, 1941 when I overheard a whispered conversation in one of the flats and someone saying: “So they attacked first and are advancing rapidly…” My friends and I embraced with tears in our eyes and we ran down to obtain details which had been brought from town and had spread through the camp like lightning. But our enthusiasm swiftly vanished. What would happen to us next? Would they let us live till the end of the war? Now they would either send us deep into Germany or else murder us here for fear of vengeance.

From this date our situation took a turn for the worse. The Fuehrer had declared that we were the arch–foes of the Germans and our treatment changed accordingly. The only weapon left to us was work. We had no alternative except to increase production and prove to the Germans that now, more than ever, we could help them at the front as a source of labour and supply. And we did. They recognized the value of our work, recognized us as a productive element and for the time being, and deferred their plans to liquidate our ghetto. For as we afterwards learnt, they had intended to get rid of us together with the Kozminek people at that time.

After the first assault and the German victories, our situation seemed to improve slightly but not for long. In September, the Arbeitsamt demanded 200 young men to be sent from Kozminek for agricultural work in the Posen District. They were selected without any medical examination.

The Arbeitsamt announced that they would all be back in four weeks provided that they picked the potatoes as required. Those who left were allowed to take small bundles with them and the next day most of them were marched on foot and a few in carts to Kalish. On the way the Germans collected some more workers from the Opatuvek and Stavy camps. All of them were housed for the time being in the former Kalish vinegar factory which had belonged to Lustig and which was notorious among the Poles because it had been a concentration camp for those exiled to Germany. Several of the men ran away. The next day they were all sent by goods train to Gildenhof and Brunsdorf in the vicinity of Posen where there were large estates.

Several days later we were ordered to send a hundred men. Here as well the first to be sent were those who avoided work, the shouters and the dissatisfied. After picking the potatoes they were all due to come back. They were permitted to take some belongings and were led like sheep to the vinegar factory. Once again, a few of the bravest ran away and the next day, the rest followed their predecessors. Among them was my girl–cousin, Madza Borislowska who had been brought to us half a year earlier from

[Page 264]

the Warsaw ghetto by our Polish friend, Mr. Antoni Pawelski. About 337 persons were left and we now feared the worst for those who had gone. A week later we received the first letters. They had all arrived in Gildenhof and Brunsdorf in the Posen District and had been dispersed among the farms. Lodging and food were not too bad. They were engaged in picking potatoes and other agricultural work. We breathed easily. This time the Germans had not deceived us and they might be trusted up to a certain point. We began to go back to work. But this interval did not last very long.

On Saturday 15th November, 1941 Kalish was again visited suddenly by the black gas lorries so our driver reported from the Gestapo. We took this as clear evidence that they intended to destroy us all and had first sent the strong young men away to agricultural work while the remaining 370 of us would meet the fate of the old people who had been killed the year before. We remembered that the Gauleiter Greizer had promised in a speech not long before to purify his region from all ‘harmful elements’ while the Fuehrer had said only a week earlier that the time had come to exterminate Jewry adding: “The Jews should not imagine that they will ever take vengeance on the Germans. Even if such a time should ever come, the memory of European Jewry will already have been blotted out”.

The members of the Council of Elders proceeded to the Municipality to find out what was planned and take steps if possible while the workshops came to a standstill. Everybody went home. By evening the camp was like a big beehive and many people ran away to Kozminek and Varta. Late at night, the Elders returned declaring that the Germans were going to send us to Kozminek or Lodz because Kalish was a district town and would therefore be ‘Judenrein’.

The endless night passed with the Council of Elders trying to persuade the Germans to leave the community shut away where they could work for the victory. But it was only when darkness fell that we heard motor engines and found ourselves under a strong guard of armed gendarmes. We knew that we were trapped with no way of escape. People dashed crazily from place to place. The younger men began to discuss feverishly whether they ought not to resist the Germans by force since, in any case, it was the end for us all? But what could we defend ourselves with? Sticks, axes, our hands and teeth or whatever came to hand, as long as we did not permit them to lead us away like sheep to the slaughter but to prove that Jews also knew how to fight and die.

More sober people went hunting for some weakly guarded point. There were no hiding places in the houses. Some of the more daring men managed to reach neighbouring houses over the roof and fled by night to Kozminek. The Gestapo men laughed aloud and did not even bother chasing them.

The God–fearing Hassidim tranquilly prepared for death. After carefully bathing themselves they put on shrouds, swathed themselves in prayer–shawls and began fervent prayer. They no longer sought for deliverance but for the forgiving of transgressions. They were happy men that handful. They were happy and proud because they knew that they had been privileged to die hallowing the Holy Name of God like our forefathers in Spain

[Page 265]

and elsewhere in Europe for so many generations. The women wept silently as they pressed their children to their hearts.

With the coming of day, everybody felt slightly easier. It was the darkness that terrified. And yet, Jewish optimism proved to be more astounding than anything else. Though we could not delude ourselves as to our fate, our hearts refused to believe that we were all about to be destroyed. We felt it was impossible for so many innocent people to be killed together. But in any case, all those who had some property left hid it away and waited for what would happen next. To be sure, what difference would it make whether our neighbours pillaged our property or our murderers took it all? Yet still people worried as to what was going to happen to it.

On the afternoon of Monday 17th November, the two black lorries stopped again at the gateway. Now Hahn, the Chairman who had formerly been so noisy and impudent, was as bowed and bent, pale and submissive as we were. He called us all to line up in the courtyard. The gestapo men then came and summoned each person by name from a list which they had. Each one called had to take three paces forward, turn around on his heels and return to his place while the chief executioner made some mysterious mark next to his name. When I was called I sprang out of the row and fixed my eyes on the man who called me and whose face was familiar. After the parade and census, Hahn told us that they had intended to send them all but at the last moment the ‘monster with the scar’ had decided only to take the old people and the rest of the sick. Afterwards we learnt that the change had been brought about by a cable from Berlin.

Now came a most egotistic and ugly relief of tension. We found that Hahn was telling the truth this time. The gestapo men came back in the evening and called a number of persons, chiefly old people and patients. Once again they noted something down beside each name as they observed the terrified faces. And we knew clearly who would be taken. When my parents were summoned I burst out weeping for the first time in many years. I do not know what happened in bygone times but in our case, we did not leave our parents alone for one moment – my sisters, my brother–in–law and I. We could not bear the thought that they would soon be lost to us forever – that they would soon die – stop breathing, thinking or feeling. And they kissed us goodbye while our tears mingled. Suddenly, I dashed to the attic as though possessed. It was still possible to climb over the roofs and escape. That was the last chance. But our parents preferred to die rather than endanger our safety. I wanted to force them to go but my father threatened that he would shout or jump from the roof… I never saw any man exercise such self–control. It was he who consoled us. My mother fainted but recovered after an injection and was angry with my friend who gave it. How much she wanted to die among her kinsfolk, in our arms.

At 9.a.m. on 18th November we had the terrible experience of parting from them when the men of the Council of Elders came with a list of those sentenced to death. The death lorry was due to come in another hour. I could hear weak voices raised in lamentation. They were particularly terrifying as they did not seem to come from this world. A last thought

[Page 266]

occurred of snatching an axe and bringing it down on the fat German necks and shave skulls, splitting them so that their brains burst out even if I fell and drowned in their blood. I turned and was giddy but somebody supported me. I heard the sound of a motor and there the lorry was. We kissed for the last time, said a last word and looked at one another. Then they went. Now I was an orphan.

I do not know how long I stood looking after the departing lorries and their convoy. I simply could not move but felt as though I was turned to stone. My sister led me home. We passed the empty room of the Hassid Neuhaus. He had left a soul light burning there before he went out and had covered the mirror with a white sheet. I fell weeping into my sister's arms. I think those were the last tears I ever shed.

There was a young girl called Malka Yakubovitch whose legs had been paralysed for years. Now suddenly she rose from her bed on her own. Some people escaped over the roofs – Kalamonovitch and his wife hid in the well in the courtyard. The Gestapo men fired warning shots and struck all who came their way with their whips. That 18th November, 1941 cost us 127 victims including 15 children from the orphanage. Five of the oldest girls and their director managed to escape at the last moment.

That same day we were ordered to leave the house at N4, Szopena St. The keys were received by the criminal German policeman Puppe who I believe was remembers from World War I. We were housed in the dwellings at N13, 16 and 18 POW St. which now stood empty under guard day and night without knowing what was going to happen next. The Elders knew no more than we did. But on Saturday we began to arrange our work at the shops in order to go back and work the next day.

But early in the morning of December 1st we were called to attention by the gendarmes and found ourselves surrounded once again. Before we knew what happened, the murderers had burst into the dwellings and took the families that had children up to the age of twelve, in accordance with a list. They were accompanied by members of the Council of Elders. Within half an hour, about a hundred people were loaded on to two lorries and taken off in the direction of Kozminek. The gendarmes went back to their own place having now done their job with perfect Prussian precision. Nobody escaped. But we all felt at ease when we saw that these were ordinary lorries.

Afterwards we found that the Council had known of this action several days in advance, but did not warn anybody for fear of their own fate and that of their relatives. Yet this was also a death transport and all the young people were destroyed.

By now, each one of us was the solitary survivor of a big family – the only person saved from a sunken ship. I was left with my younger sister Madzia. The economical Gestapo decided that it was not worth their while to bring the black lorry for a mere hundred persons and, therefore, ordered that they should be transferred to Kozminek where a major action was to be carried out. Our people were forced into the firemen's shed together with the Kozminek victims and taken out several days later in groups

[Page 267]

of seventy by the black lorry. Here the Germans showed their full brutality. They smashed the weeping babies, whom the mothers had left behind, against the sides of the lorry in order to enjoy the sight of the spurting blood and brains!

But there it was possible to escape by giving large bribes. The members of the local Council of Elders bribed the gendarmes and saved themselves at least. Still, several hundred Jews were killed including a large number of women, old people and babies. By a virtual miracle, my sister, Dr. Devora Gross–Shinagel, with her husband and their child Jacob, were saved out of the Kalish people. When she told the guard that she was a doctor, he allowed her to leave, in sheer astonishment to find her among all these.

There were only about a hundred and fifty of us left now and we were crowded into two buildings – 13 and 16 POW St. Next day we went back to work as usual as though nothing had happened. The machines whirred and the hammers banged in our struggle for life. So far we had chiefly carried out the orders of private firms for clothes and shoes and the Economic Department made a lot of profit on us. In the year 1941 alone, we provided them with several million Reichmarks. But to make our work even more important, the Council now made desperate efforts to obtain military orders. These might secure our residence in Kalish. And they did succeed in obtaining a large order for sheets, gloves, leggings of synthetic ram skin and high felt boots for the army. But these orders were irregular, to our regret.

Still, the Elders finally established contact with a big German industrialist from Berlin named Sannwald who had had to cut down the production of uniforms for the army because of a shortage of workers. He was happy when we offered him our services with the approval of the Economic Department and other Municipal Authorities. After our first trial order of several score of uniforms proved satisfactory, Sannwald asked the District Gestapo for a permit to exploit our working capacity. We were anxious that he should make our shops part of his factory, take over the administration and thus give them the status of a military supply factory. We, therefore, did our very best to make him feel satisfied with our work and finally learnt that his contract had been approved. We rejoiced believing that we now stood firmer.

Weeks had passed and the young people who had been sent to Poznan were long overdue. More than two months went by and they did not come back. In addition, the information in their letters described a worsening situation. From January 1942, they had been sent to camps where they were suffering from starvation and filth. They were working hard at land betterment and road repairing and their food was being steadily diminished so that they did not have the strength to work. We gave up all hope of seeing them. Then one day we were alarmed to hear that the “man with the scar” had been seen again. The news was enough to empty the camp of half of its inhabitants. Many went to stay with Polish acquaintances. By day we set up many observation patrols. After three days we learnt that he had left town and the tension died down. Still, many families left the camp in order to find refuge in ‘safer’ camps such as Zdunska–Wola and

[Page 268]

Lask. (These were the Bloch, Bulka and Lipshitz families, Mrs. Arkush, Mrs. Vishnievska and her children, etc).

Meanwhile, work in the shops was expanding rapidly. Worn out uniforms were brought in heaps and piles. We had to disentangle them very cautiously, clean them, patch them and put them together again so that they looked like new. Every seam, every stitch and the place of every button were carefully measured. Everything had to be done with absolute precision.

The newly–emptied halls were used for a special department for sorting and cleaning which employed all the women without exception, the children above twelve and all the men who did not know how to sew. The shoemaking shop was shut down as being less important and everybody was put to work tailoring to increase production to a maximum. The one purpose was to please the capricious Berliner who held our fate in his hands. He knew this and drove us without mercy. Now our task was to toil for the German Army day and night and sometimes on Sundays. We gave all the strength we had and even more: “all for the Wehrmacht!” That slogan gave us and the people in Kozminek several more months of life. But bad tidings reached us from the camps.

During spring, many of the young men died under dreadful conditions in the Labour camps near Posen while some went out of their minds. A few succeeded in escaping and reached our own camp. They would walk at night and hide in the forests by day. They were shadows dressed in rags and the tales they told were horrifying. Since they were tailors, we managed to have them registered as coming from another ghetto. They were most obedient and did not behave like the rebellious Krize, Hela Moscowitch and Lola Yedvah, the former two of whom lost their lives because of their rebelliousness. My younger sister Madzia Gross was handed over to the Gestapo on March 26th, 1942 on a charge of collaboration with the Polish Underground. Two gendarmes came to arrest her even though she was ill. They said she was being taken for a brief interrogation but we knew that we would never see her again. Polish acquaintances related that she marched like a soldier, as though she had arrested the others. After liberation many people related that they had found her signature on one of the walls in the Lodz Ghetto prison for she had been transferred there and was sent on by the judges and policemen of Romkowsky, the ruler of the Lodz Ghetto who sent hundreds of “saboteurs” like her to the Chelmno Death Camp near Kolo almost every day.

We knew that sooner or later we would be sent to camps or killed for we could feel that the attitude of the Germans had been changing for the worse. This became plain after their first defeats along the south–east front. We were going to have to pay for the victory of the Russians at Stalingrad. If we heard German being spoken or the roaring of a lorry engine, our hearts would cease to beat and the blood would freeze in our veins. We felt that the sooner they came to finish us off, the better. In spite of this, we were happy every day to know that we had lived one day, one hour and one minute longer. All we hoped was to be allowed to sleep on until the morning.

Toward the end of May, 1942, our camp was again surrounded by the

[Page 269]

gendarmes who took away several dozen men who were fit for work. The camps in Poznan were emptying too fast on account of the high mortality and the losses had to be made good.

At this point I decided it was time for me to escape at all costs. I managed to get to one of the vacated houses, climbed a high fence and hid under the stairs of a ruinous cellar in a neighbouring house. There I found our shoemaker, Bendet Rohr. We put branches in front of the entry but heard the leaves rusting and twigs being crushed. We made a dash for the next fence. I believe that shots were fired after us but we reached the third garden belonging to Dobrowolski. We were separated from the street by a little wicket–gate and parted from one another. Strolling sedately so as not to attract attention, I walked along the streets to the house at 15 Clasna St. where I had been born and lived for seventeen years. My former neighbour, Mrs. Zofia Lewandowska, hid me in the cellar where I spent several hours. In the evening I went back to the camp after the selection had been made.

The next day the only sign of a change was that a few dozen machines were not working and a few hearts mourned at fresh bereavements. But the machines that were working speeded up in order to make good the withdrawal of forty workers. We were now 120 in all.

During the hot days of June 1942, we learnt from bribed German officials that we were to be sent first to Kozminek and then to the Warsaw ghetto. We went on working but the work was no longer any good. Sannwald vented his fury on the terrified foremen. We had to repair every defect after our working hours and on Sundays. Yet, in spite of his fury, Sannwald did his best to ensure that we should be left in Kalish – in his own interest as well as our own.

 

The End

On the hot morning of July 8th, 1942 I took the uniform which I was to pick apart by noon and set out to work on the roof of the low wooden hut in order to avoid breathing the dust which rose from the clothes as they were being picked apart. Suddenly, an unusual movement in the courtyard attracted my attention. I looked towards the field. The gendarmes had not arrived there yet. A single leap and I would be free but I remembered my last remaining sister above in the workshop. I slipped down in to the courtyard, not seeing what was going on or paying any attention, arrived upstairs within a few seconds and dashed into our room thrusting aside all who came my way. But my sister was no longer there. A neighbour told me that at the very last moment she, her husband Artur and two–year old Child Jacob (the last child in the camp whom we had succeeded in hiding until now from the gendarmes) had managed to get away and find a refuge with a Christian family opposite at N18 POW St. I looked out of the window, saw the curtain move in the room opposite me and saw my sister's tearful face.

I was down in the street within a few moments and because I had no belongings with me and was not even properly dressed, the gendarme assumed that I lived in a different house and let me pass to N16. I dashed into

[Page 270]

the corridor dashed up to the attic and shifted a cupboard to reach a well–camouflaged entry in the wall which led into the attic in the next house, N18. The entry had been made in the previous November. Now I forced my way through it with difficulty and found myself in the now Aryan house. But I had to cross a big courtyard to reach the apartment where my sister had taken refuge. Luckily it was empty.

I ran across but in the corridor I found the way blocked by Schultz the shoemaker, a Volksdeutsch whom I knew well. My entreaties did not help. A gendarme appeared promptly. Still, I managed to scurry away and escape. I believe he shot after me but I was very quickly back in the camp. I then realized that there was no way out. I could not reach my sister. If I took a single careless step, the gendarmes would find her. Even if I should reach her, it was very doubtful if there would be any room for me as well with my distinctly Jewish appearance. So I had to stay where I was and hide until the fury had passed. I had to change tactics.

At this point, I heard the yells of the gendarmes: “Alle austreten!” (All out!). I dashed into the corridor where my companions were standing arguing furiously. “Don't waste a second. Follow me!”. A few of them did so and within a few moments, we were back in the attic. After a brief consultation, we decided to get out onto the roof, cross three more roofs in succession and hide in the attic of the third house. After that, we would see. There were five of us: Haniek Blashkovsky and his wife Esther, Schwarzbard, Yulek Volkovitch and his wife Marisha Zeidel and I. First we got the women onto the roof, wiped out all the traces and then followed. We crawled over the glowing surface so as not to be seen. Finally, we reached the entry into the last attic of the Aryan house and forced the cover off. Slowly and furtively, we slipped down and crowded against the darkest corner where the roof met the wall. The walls and roof–beams were all dry and the slightest careless movement could start them creaking. So we lay pressed against one another listening to our hearts beating. The only thing that disturbed the silence was the buzzing of flies and the yelling of the gendarmes which reached us from the distance.

The clock in the Municipality Tower range 11. A motor suddenly started roaring. I cautiously crept to the low attic window. Startled swallows flew away from their nests. I scattered dust on the panes and then approached. These were not the death lorries but ordinary ones. The people of the last group were being pushed onto them. I could recognize acquaintances. They were not alarmed because they had been promised that they were being taken to Lodz. When the lorry left, my heart pounded in grief knowing that I would never see them again.

Back with the others, the women were weeping. What would happen to us? Where would we find a hiding place? We could not stay here where nobody would lend us a hand. Nobody was going to risk his own safety for us. The women began to regret having come. They wanted to go back to their kinsfolk. And we were particularly worried about Esther who was ill and was expecting to give birth to a child any time. Still, she displayed astounding courage and calmness. It grew hotter and hotter. It became hard to breathe. We did not feel hungry though we had eaten

[Page 271]

nothing since the night before but we were very thirsty and had not the slightest idea how much longer we might have to crouch where we were.

Suddenly, the rusty lock creaked and the wooden door of the attic opened. A young woman came in carrying a basket. The others looked at me. I was the closest and knew what they meant. If she should notice us, we would have to hold her, cover her mouth and tie her up until we got away. But the young Volksdeutsch woman quietly put the basket in place, undid the rope covering it and went off. And the hours continued to crawl by until at last darkness fell and it became a little cooler. That was what saved us for we were on the verge of collapse. Yulek and I proposed to go over to the empty house and fetch water, food and some clothes. But we had to give up the idea for fear of waking up the housefolk while crawling. Apart from that, the guards of the Voluntary Fire Brigade might observe us since they used to go around abandoned dwellings stealing whatever they could.

At six o'clock in the morning when the workers in the neighbouring factory went home after the night shift, we decided we would leave our hiding–place. Each of us would go separately for safety reasons. Maybe some of would be lucky. When the clock struck, we looked at one another for the last time and broke down the door with a joint effort. A moment later, I was standing at the gate of the house and slowly took a few dozen steps. When a group of workers passed me, I made a dash for the fields and for freedom.

Afterwards I learnt that the Germans had told the truth for the first time and had not deceived us. All the camp folk had been rounded for the time being in the empty mill which had formerly belonged to Reich and Chmielnicki. The next day they were all placed on the train and taken to the Lodz ghetto either 136 or 146 Jews in all. And that was the last transport in the history of Kalish Jewry. It took place on the 9th of July, 1942. Just before the train started, the two sisters Klein, pupils at the orphanage, appeared at the station. They had run away from the Poznan camps and returned to Kalish at that moment and willingly joined the deportees for lack of any alternative. Henyek Blaszkowski and his wife did the same. They too had no alternative for Esther was about to have a child and already found it hard to walk.

The other couple, Yulek Wolkowitch and Marisha Seidel arrived at Warta on foot and after resting there for a few days proceeded to the Zdunska–Wola ghetto. But the whole of that ghetto was transferred to Lodz soon after. “All of them” means the handful that were left after the terrible slaughter which took place there first when almost all the Jews in the camp were cut down by machine gun.

During the transportation of Kalish, Isidor Wiszniewski also ran away but was unlucky. A few days later he was handed over to the Gestapo but his numerous gendarme acquaintances saved his life and he was sent to Lodz. I was, I believe, the last Jew left in Kalish. I spent a fortnight in the home of Polish acquaintances, first with Mr. Josef Jaworowicz and then with Antoni Pawelski who risked their lives and unhesitatingly lent me a fraternal hand in my distress.

[Page 272]

Two days after the last transportation, Mr. Pawelski told me that my sister was no longer in the apartment where she had taken refuge and that all the Jews were still in the Kalish area. I set out to Kozminek on foot to find out what was going on. No one recognized me on the way and here I found that the ghetto had already been removed. For a moment I entered the home of a Polish acquaintance hoping that my sister would be sitting there. While I was eating the food she brought me, a Volksdeutsch postman entered the house. It seems that somebody had recognized me in the street and had sent him there after me. I did not have the strength to run away and was taken to the Gendarme station.

Here I pretended to be a fool and told Wachman that I had come from Kalish to look for my family. Our ghetto had been transferred only yesterday so I had come here to join my kinsfolk. The fat Prussian shook his head not knowing what to do with me. He could have killed me but why bother for a single Jew? He looked at me dreamily but suddenly woke up. He angrily ordered me to go to the Warta ghetto. But I preferred to return to Kalish hoping to find my sister. There I learnt that she had been handed over in her hiding place and had apparently been sent on to Lodz with the others. What was I to do next? Reporting to the Gestapo meant death for they were not going to send a single Jew to Lodz under guard when one bullet could do the business.

Besides, I did not believe that they had really been sent to Lodz. My friend Antoni Pawelski advised me to proceed to the General Government area and try to cross one of the fronts there or wait in one of the ghettos for the time being until the front approached. But this seemed impossible to me too since I had no money. All I had was thirty Reichsmark, a torn shirt and trousers and an old pair of shoes. My Polish friend Josef Jaworowicz gave me an overcoat and hat.

To me it seemed preferable to go to Germany and work as a Pole. As I had no documents, Mr. Pawelski found a temporary refuge with acquaintances in Piwonice. For two days I remained hidden in the barn until I could no longer bear it and went back to Kalish to find out what had happened. It turned out that Poles were not being sent to work in Germany at the time. Now I began wandering from Piewnice to Kalish and back every day rather than lie hidden and tense. The Pawelskis encouraged me as best they could and tried their hardest to get me Aryan papers. I doubt whether I could have held out had it not been for them. Besides, in the barn at Piwonice there was a danger at any moment that one of the farm workers might come and take hay for the animals and discover me. I walked by day when people were going to work and carried a bottle of coffee and some sandwiches in my hand as though I were going to the works as well.

One day a gendarme came walking around the street corner so suddenly that I was caught unprepared. I slowly strolled past him without looking in his direction and went on without changing direction. At the road–block, I stopped, glanced in boredom at my watch and turned into the neighbouring street. Mrs. Pawelska saw this from her window and told me afterwards

[Page 273]

that the German had turned his head to watch me and stood there doubtfully for quite a while.

At night it was safer in the village for searches were being conducted unceasingly in town. But one night the farm–woman told me in alarm that I could not stay because she was afraid that the gendarmes would be coming in connection with the arrest of her husband. I remembered that five kilometres away there was a peasant that I knew in Liss village. But he refused to give me any help and I spent the night in the fields.

The woman who allowed me to stay in her place did not know I was a Jew otherwise she would not have let me remain for a single moment. So, I made up all kinds of stories for her with the aid of Mr. Pawelski. As far as she knew, I was the son of one of the rebels who had met his death in Auschwitz together with her husband.

By this time I was on the verge of collapse but I still wanted to go on living. Now I spent weeks hidden in the high pile of hay. Searches were being conducted everywhere. I counted on a last chance. It was rumoured that the arrests and searches in Kalish had stopped on the Friday. I was hoping for Mr. Pawelski's visit since the convoy would be leaving the following day. And this time I was right. At about noon on 18th July, 18–942, he arrived. The Polish transportees to Germany were leaving that day and we must not lose a moment. I had to leave at once. And on the way we discussed the plan of action. I had no documents so I had to try to steal into the convoy. We went back to Kalish through the fields and reached the railway station through side streets.

The station was swarming with secret police. I stopped in front of the time–table as though I was studying it. Meanwhile, Mr. Pawelski brought me a platform ticket and shook my hand for the last time. I tried to thank him for his generosity and the brotherhood he had shown me but he would not let me do so. Be careful! A plain–clothed man approached. Once again I bent down to tie up my shoelace and when he passed, I went through to the platform.

It really was the last moment. A group of displaced Poles, men, women and children were approaching bringing any amount of luggage with them. I sized up the situation in the twinkling of an eye and ran over to one woman in order to offer her my help. I swung up a heavy sack of her belongings on my shoulder and marched along with all the rest towards the carriage.

A fleshy German belonging to the Arbeitsamt (Labour Office) counted people off: “Thirty–five, thirty–six”. All my bones were quivering…”Thirty–seven” and I was inside the carriage;

The engine whistled and the train started out. The peasant women wept. The peasants dropped their shaven heads in nervous worry. It was hard to depart from the beloved homeland, the village where they were born, the cabins and their own land, their own soil where they had grown up and struck root. I could share their grief – who better than?

I approached the window. Mr. Pawelski was standing in the doorway of the waiting–room. His face showed how happy he was. We had succeeded. He waved his hand but surely could not have believed that he would ever see me

[Page 274]

again. He vanished from my eyes but remains firmly engraved in my ever–grateful memory.

Darkness began to descend. The wheels span faster and faster. The train began speeding up forging ahead into the grey distance. I was going to Germany for a fresh contest with my fate to go on struggling bitterly for life.

Lodz, 26th March 1947

 

« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »


This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.


JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Kalisz, Poland     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page


Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Max G. Heffler

Copyright © 1999-2023 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 07 Jul 2016 by JH