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Kalish, Kosminek and the Camps

by Wolf Lassman

As soon as the war broke out on 1st September, 1939, about three–quarters of the Jewish population left Kalish, dispersing in all directions. My two brothers and I also fled to Leszno but had to return because the Germans advanced so fast that they cut us off. Others came back after the surrender of Warsaw but a small proportion proceeded to Russia.

The Germans were rumoured to have entered Kalish on September 6th. When I came back on the 21st, Kalish was empty and like a city of the dead. Everything was closed and locked but most of the shops had been looted. Many Jews had already been shot. I heard that when the Germans entered the town they surrounded several Jewish streets, drove the Jews out of their beds in their night clothes, ordered them to run in circles and then practised shooting at them for several hours. After that, those who survived were sent home. But many bodies were left in the streets.

Jews were allowed in the streets until 6p.m. If a Jew with a beard appeared, it was promptly cut off often with pieces of skin as well. At this time the Germans were sending the Jews to the filthiest kinds of work, beating them murderously on the way.

In due course, Jews began to open their grocery shops. There was no hunger as yet but they lived in dreadful fear, feeling that they were captives in the hands of savage beasts. Early in November, 1939, the Germans suddenly cut off Gornoslonska Street, broke into the Jewish houses, ordered them to take some household linen, pillows, food, etc. and leave their homes at once. They were first taken to the Market Square and were afterwards driven into the large Market Square and were afterwards driven into the large market building there. More than 2,000 Jews were driven there on the first day. A hundred were separated and taken to the Town Hall shelter. They included lawyers, industrialists, merchants and physicians. They were cross–examined about the hiding places of gold, silver and jewellery. The Germans also demanded that they hand over all valuables that they possessed. Then, each one was taken to a dark room; a blanket flung over him and was then beaten until he was senseless. No food or water was given to them. Two days later they were brought back to the market building.

A total of about 10,000 people were finally crowded in there. In due course some food was provided. The building was surrounded with barbed wire and placed under S.S. guard.

One day, the Germans took the writer Flinker into the market place and simply cut him into pieces! His household help had told the Germans that she had heard him cursing Hitler. After he had been tortured to death, she took possession of his home and belongings.

A few Jews managed to escape from the building. The only question was – where could they go? They were being kidnapped and expelled everywhere. But most decided that there was no point in trying to run away. A dreadful

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epidemic of typhoid began in the Market Building and killed off hundreds of people. Only after this did the Germans remove people from the building, sending one transport to Lechow and another to Rembertow near Warsaw. After the first set of Market Building inmates had been removed, other Jews were caught and sent there.

The remainder made the mistake of hoping that now they would be left alone. But the Germans promptly began transporting the second 10,000. Then they began kidnapping more Jews and concentrating them there once again. By the end of 1939 almost all the Jews of the city had been expelled. It was announced that any person with more than 10 Reichsmark in his possession would be executed. The Jews got rid of all their possessions, their gold, their jewellery and their valuables. Very few risked keeping anything for themselves. The only Jews remaining in the city were the hospital patients and staff and a handful of unskilled workers. Somewhat later, tailors were selected in order to establish a tailor's workshop.

A few weeks later the Germans sent all the hospital patients in the direction of Grochow. On the way they were gassed to death and flung into common graves. After this expulsion the Germans collected parcels for the patients among the Jews of Kalish. Later, one of the tailors recognized his father's fur coat which an S.S. man brought him to be made over.

The Germans gathered all the belongings of the 30,000 expelled Jews in large warehouses. They sold the less valuable goods to the Polish population for next to nothing, took the best for themselves and sent the rest to Germany.

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While the Jews were concentrated in the Market Square before the transportation, the Poles stood around and watched. Some of them asked S.S men to take bundles away from the Jews for them. Polish girls asked the Germans to take rings from the fingers of Jewish women for their sakes and the Germans obliged them. A few families succeeded in running away. Together with my father and two brothers, I got away to Brzezyny near Kalish where we met the Greenbaum family with 6 members. We all worked a fortnight for Marr the Volksdeutsch. But one day all the Jews in the neighbourhood were collected and sent to Kosminek, about 20 kilometres from Kalish. At the time, Kozminek was still an ‘open ghetto’ where people were packed together like sardines. But we did not starve because we could buy food from the villages. The ghetto was conducted by a Judenrat and there was a Jewish Ordnungsdienst (Police). Haftke was placed in charge of the Jewish Labour Office and later became notorious for his cruelty to his fellow Jews.

Meanwhile, the Jews of the Kalish District had almost all been liquidated or transported elsewhere. My family and I registered for work at the Opatowek Civilian Labour Camp, 11 kilometres away. There we were employed in work such as unloading coal, cleaning drains and ditches, making roads, etc., being sent out in groups when called for by various German factories.

We were housed at the former Elementary School. Our daily ration included 330 grs of bread and two plates of soup a day. From time to time we were given a piece of horse meat. As a rule, we had to work twelve hours a day but we were often compelled to continue until late at night and had to begin work at 7a.m. as usual the next morning.

The situation rapidly grew far worse. The overseers began beating us and we began to feel hunger. Then we stole coal and sent it to the Kosminek ghetto and they sent us bread in return. We also stole potatoes. In many cases those who were carrying the stolen goods were caught and murderously thrashed. But nothing could prevent us from stealing because that was the only way to obtain food. Otherwise, we would all have perished of starvation.

Early in 1940, the Germans began transporting Jews from Kozminek to other camps. When the unspeakable German Gett was appointed supervisor of the entire district, our situation became absolutely intolerable and we could feel that our days were numbered. Things went on like this, rumour after rumour, persecution growing steadily worse until March 1941. Suddenly, we saw one day that the ghetto had been surrounded. There was nowhere to hide. Gestapo and S.S. units burst into the ghetto and drove Jews into the synagogue courtyard. They drove the weak, the ill, the old people and the children and anyone else to whom they took a dislike into the synagogue. But anyone could be released for money! Haftke released people as he liked. He went through the Jewish homes, brought out those in hiding and took them to the synagogue.

Black lorries then came and the sick, weak and children were loaded on them – a total of about 150 in each so that many were choked while they were being loaded. Mothers climbed into the lorries themselves refusing to be separated from their children. BY the time those lorries passed Opotowek

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nothing could be heard from them but occasional moans for all the people had already been choked. Poison gas was used on them to kill off the people and the bodies were emptied out and burnt. When Jews in Opatowek saw the lorries passing, they ran after them wailing bitterly. The S.S. men shot at their legs while the overseers beat them mercilessly. This action lasted three days while the lorries removed about 1500 as I saw with my own eyes in Kozminek.

After this many Jews ran away to Warsaw and Lodz believing there was a better chance of surviving in the large Jewish concentration camps. Meanwhile, Gett, the District Commissioner came to the ghetto every day with a gang of drunken Gestapo men. At night, they drove the Jews naked from their dwellings, forced them to run through the streets and beat them murderously. Occasionally, they brought pretty Jewish girls to the gendarmerie station, violated them all night long, beat them early in the morning and drove them into the streets naked.

Jews were dying off like flies, starving to death. They were replaced by others. After the terrible action of Kozminek, there was no food available any longer for the others at Opatowek and it was clear that the days of both camps were numbered.

In May 1941, orders were given that all residents of Opatowek should prepare to leave. Jews from another labour camp were also brought and we were about 300 in all. On that day 30 peasant carts reached the camp and we were carried off to Kalish where we were forced into six railway carriages and brought to Poznan. There we were received by representatives of private factories. We were divided into two groups and the second group of about 150 Jews was sent to Schwanningen which belonged to the German Labour Front. There we were taken to a camp containing two large barracks. It was surrounded by a barbed wire fence and had a special guard. We had to fetch straw before we were given food, and had to move at the double When we returned, each two of us had to carry back a load of straw weighing 150 kilogrammes in our hands under a hail of merciless blows. We were then summoned for the first parade and informed: “You have come here to work and obey orders. Anyone who does not obey will be hung. So will every saboteur. You will be beaten for every breach of discipline”. Our group was then divided into 10 units.

Though we were forbidden to speak to Polish workers who were employed with us, they soon told us that Jews had already been here and had been starved by the Germans and then sent to Konin where they were destroyed and their bodies given to the “Reiff” soap factory.

We had to work hard labour 10 to 12 hours a day on 300grs of bread and 2 mouthfuls of water. Within a fortnight, one Jew ran away and was followed by 5 more several days later. The regime then became even more severe and close guard was kept over us at work. We were not allowed to rest at all but had to work bowed down and could not raise our heads. We were kept separate from the Polish workers.

After much searching, the Germans caught the six Jews who had run away. The first one was placed in a hot disinfection oven “in order to fry”.

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There was only a scorched black skeleton to be removed. The Germans allowed the other five to die easily – all of them being hung. One of them said in the eyes of all present: “We are innocent and the German murderers will pay for this!” A Gestapo man shot him and his corpse was hung as well.

Now the overseers thought up a new game at work. They would place a Jew in a little cart, cover him with sand, wheel him to some abyss and empty him out. The poor fellow tumbled down the slope breaking all his limbs and perishing in agony. Those who died while falling were the lucky ones. We were compelled to watch. Often a Jew would be covered up to the neck in sand and left to perish. Koerner, the German overseer, was particularly murderous and was the one who organized these “Jewish” games as he called them.

After three months at the camp we were absolutely exhausted. The Germans selected 60 Jewish “Mussalmen” – people who were too weak to do any work – and sent them to the Soap Factory at Konin. Only a handful were left and we were sure that we were going the same way. Instead, 200 other Jews were brought to the camp. One Jew succeeded in escaping from Konin. He was caught, brought to our camp for execution but was kept in detention for several days. The Jewish camp attendants who brought him his food learnt from him that after Jews had been gassed to death in the entire region, their bodies were brought to the Soap Factory. He himself was hung.

One winter night, all the camp heads made a party to celebrate the German victories at the Front. At midnight, the Camp Heads and the Gestapo burst into our huts and drove the Jews out naked, making us run across the snow and beating us murderously. Then the Germans lined up on either side of the entry to the tents. We were ordered to return and they made us run the gauntlet, killing eight Jews. One was first flung into a pit and afterwards dragged out and tied to a telephone pole at a temperature of minus 30 degrees centigrade. He froze to death. Czekala, chief of the guard who was a savage sadist, took the lead in all of this.

The searches conducted when entering the Camp were a chapter in themselves. If a Jew was found bringing anything in, his number was noted down and he was tried on parade, the usual sentence being 50 strokes on the naked body. The Germans used damp rubber whips which cut up the victim's flesh. The victim was then placed in an unheated but hermetically sealed disinfection oven where he choked to death.

One evening in July 1942, we were ordered to leave with our bundles. We were called out on parade at 11p.m. and left standing until dawn when we saw that the camp was surrounded by S.S. men and gestapo. There were then about 500 of us in the camp.

About 60 armed Germans led us to the railway station where almost 60 goods waggons were on the line. We heard groans and moans and human shadows peeped out from time to time through the tiny barred windows. Four additional waggons were coupled on and we were loaded into them. But the train did not take us in the direction of Konin as we had expected.

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We journeyed for six days and six nights without food or water. Of the 2,000 Jews in the train, many perished.

In due course the train stopped and we were ordered to get out within ten minutes leaving our belongings behind. The survivors were arranged in groups of five. Three S.S. officers made a selection – the healthy to this side and the others to that. About 600 men were selected, loaded on to lorries and carried off to a camp. At first we did not know where we were but later we found out that we were in Auschwitz. The other were taken off to Birkenau.

We found people dressed in what looked like pyjamas. This we did not understand. We knew that there was mass extermination of Jews going on so how could they suddenly be walking around like that?

Now we were conducted into a transit hut were we stripped and went out naked through another door. There we were left standing all night until 8a.m. It was cold and raining. The Kapos of the neighbouring hut mocked us, threw stones at us, poured water over us, etc. In the morning, our heads were clipped and we were taken for delousing. We were then conducted to Quarantine Block N°30 which already contained about 3,000 people.

We went up to the attic where each man was given his piece of bread. Thereafter, a new life in a real concentration camp began. We were not

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Sent to work but were tortured with parades and had to stand with knees bent for three hours before the parade. Anybody who fell was beaten unconscious. Bread was brought in huge baskets. Each man had to approach and take a piece of bread without looking in. The moment the man's hand closed on the bread, he would be hit over the head. Often enough he would receive the blows but not the bread and was left to starve all day long They kept us busy doing drill accompanied by beatings Dozens of people died every day.

One day the authorities began to select men for work outside. Everybody tried to think up a suitable occupation and look as young and healthy as possible. About 300 men were selected including my father, my two brothers and me. There could be no greater good fortune than to have the whole family leave together.

Kalish in August 1939 and After

From the Ringelblum Archives

In August 1939, the public became clearly aware that was inevitable. This led to greater excitement and all kinds of preparations. The Poles were imbued with a spirit of patriotism and displayed their readiness to defend their fatherland. General mobilization was proclaimed and preparations began. In Kalish, the local Jews were convinced of the justice of the cause of those who were defending themselves. As war grew closer, the relations between Poles and Jews improved for they knew they had a common enemy and a united popular front had to be set up against it. The anti–Semitic propaganda of the Polish Endeks almost ceased. While the Poles knew how powerful the Germany enemy was, they felt they could rely on the spirit of their own soldiers.

The fate of the Jews was also bound up with the war for the attitude of the Germans toward Jewry was familiar. They also knew that the Germans were encouraging the Endeks and their anti–Semitic activities. The conscious sections of the Jewish population had condemned the Fascist Regime of the Third Reich. A defeated Germany would certainly improve the position of Polish Jews.

They all believed in victory and this led to the consolidation of the patriotic Front in Poland. But events moved fast. There were provocations on the frontiers, incidents in Danzig and mobilization. A whole series of year–groups were called back to the army and the Kalish groups began to grow. The barracks were too small to hold all the mobilized men so they were placed in schools, cinemas, government buildings etc. The City began to look like a military camp.

Tension increased steadily when the German–Soviet Agreement became known and general mobilization was proclaimed. The military authorities resolved to dig trenches and erect barbed wire barricades. Civilians were mobilized for these tasks and responded with devotion. Groups of civilians marched out of town with flags accompanied by bands. The Jewish population

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took a very active part in all of this. Various organizations like the Bund, Betar and Maccabi mobilized their members and marched under slogans such as: “Jewish workers are digging a grave for Hitlerism”. Jews also dug shelters in town against air attacks. There could be no doubt that as soon as military action began, the city would be bombed. The Air–Raid Precautions Committee recommended that women and children should be sent to neighbouring small towns and villages and a special office was opened by the Town Council for evacuating the population.

These instructions caused much excitement in the town. Everybody understood that it was necessary to leave quickly. The rumour that the Government archives had been taken out of the town increased the commotion. Long files of people began to stand at the offices of the P.K.O. (Polish Saving Bank) made up of people who wished to withdraw their savings and keep them in spot cash. People on holiday came back in alarm from holiday and rest resorts. The prices of travelling bags, baskets and cases began to rise. The railway station was thronged. Only really well–to–do people could hire lorries and taxes. People were packing their belongings everywhere and setting out on their wanderings to find a safe place.

Towards the end of August, the stream of refugees from the city began to increase as long caravans of peasant waggons full of evacuees from the frontier villages began to reach the town. The peasants loaded whatever they could on waggons, put their cattle out and began moving eastwards. Now even the poorest left the town moving with their knapsacks on their backs towards Lodz, Warsaw and other towns lying to the east. Nobody considered whether he was doing the right thing. There was a general panic and flight.

Three–quarters of the population left the city during those days before the war.



From Kalish to Warsaw

The events of September led to a general flight, absolutely confused, without any consideration or preparation. People went off without belongings, in their morning suits and without overcoats. Everybody could feel that another hour in Kalish was as good as destruction.

The following fact indicates how nervous and terrified the townsfolk were. My mother, my younger brother and I went to acquaintances in the morning to take advice. The streets were quiet. Most of the shops were closed and a large part of the Jews were already detained in the Market building. Our acquaintances had already finished packing and were about to go to the railway where the train was due to leave in twenty minutes time. Without further consideration, we decided to join them although we had nothing with us. We entrusted our apartment with everything in it to a Christian neighbour, a blacksmith's wife with whom we were on good neighbourly relations. She promised us that if we had to go away she would send our belongings on to wherever was necessary. In due course, she took everything herself and claimed that the Germans had expropriated the lot.

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The railway station was packed full. The trains could not contain all the passengers. Jews waited, grew nervous and were apprehensive about new excesses that might occur at any moment. They climbed onto the steps and fenders of the carriages. The carriages themselves were packed and choking. Everybody was standing. Yet they began to feel more at ease. As soon as the train began to move, they breathed easily. They were outside the city at last.

The train stopped at Sieradz and Zdunska Wola. Jews were standing in groups and also wanted to travel. Their faces were stamped with fear, anxiety and grief because they could not join us. In Lodz we had to wait several hours for the train that left for Warsaw. Here as well there were masses of Jews from Lodz and other cities and small towns. They could feel what a long time it was for they wished to escape after all that had happened to them. The yellow badges which they wore gave the Germans reason to mock and torment them. They expelled all the Jews from the waiting room at night and ordered them to crowd together on the platform. They arranged them all in a long column and ordered them to open their bundles and bags for inspection. When the Jews obeyed, the Germans moved from bundle to bundle taking whatever they liked the look of. Anybody who dared to object was immediately beaten, including women.

When the train arrived at last, the Germans put all the Jews in one place and kept them there until the Poles were all on board. One minute before departure, they made the Jews run to two goods waggons that were hitched onto the train. The crowding and confusion was indescribable People trod on one another. There were terrifying shrieks. Families were split up, children were left without parents and many lost all their belongings. When the train started out at last, half the Jews were left at the station not knowing what to do and cursing the day they were born. The Germans enjoyed themselves, mocking the barbarous Jews who did not know how to behave quietly like civilized people.

Thoroughly dejected, the passengers arrived at Koluszki where we had to get off and wait for the train to Warsaw. This was the frontier station between the areas that had been annexed by the Reich and the General Government of Poland Thousands of Jews were walking nervously up and down the platform, looking out for the train. Between Lodz and Koluszki, the Jews had removed the yellow bade hoping that they would not have to wear it any longer. But they were wrong! The Germans at once saw how many Jews there were at the station and went on tormenting as before. The German railway workers took them all to one spot, beating and cursing them for removing the badge. The Jews swiftly put it on again but it did not help. The Germans had decided to torture them. There was one young German who walked up and down in front of the terrified Jews as they trembled and pushed them about saying: “These cursed Jews”. Suddenly he stopped and ordered them all to repeat together at the top of their voices: “We wanted war”. The Jews obeyed.

The Polish passengers gathered around, laughed and did their best to show the Germans how much they appreciated these tricks. One of the Poles offered to translate the German's order into Polish. The young German felt

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encouraged and went on inventing torments. He ordered all the Jews who had served in the Polish Army to take one pace forward. About fifteen men or so advanced. The German arranged them in two rows and rebuked them for having shot at German soldiers. He then began to drill them ordering them to fall and stand and helped them to obey by kicking them. He then commanded them to pick up their bundles, cases and knapsacks and made them run a hundred metres along the railway tracks. Many of them stumbled and fell. Before the train left, the Germans again ‘inspected’ the baggage and took whatever they wanted.

When the Jews finally forced their way into the Warsaw train, they moaned with relief. People climbed through the windows and onto the roofs. Weary and exhausted they reached the Warsaw terminus late at night. Apart from the many Jews, the station was full of peasants and food hawkers who had brought supplies from near and far. Everybody waited for the morning. They then went into town to search for a refuge and some way of earning a living.



The Jews in Kalish from September to November, 1939

Early in October, anti–Jewish measures began to increase. Until then the situation had not been too bad. When the Jews returned to their former occupations, operating the workshops, opening their shops and things were almost as they had been. As masses of German soldiers passed through Kalish there was a great increase in business, particularly in cafes and restaurants. The Jewish pastry cooks and cake shops worked hard and made plenty of profit

The German character of the town became steadily clearer. All Polish signs were removed and replaced by others in German. The streets were given German names. Photographs of Hitler began to appear in shop windows and swastikas fluttered everywhere. The Polish population swiftly adapted itself to the new conditions and many Poles set out to prove to the Germans that they were even prepared to run ahead of them in some respects. Many shop windows began to display not only swastikas and portraits of Hitler and Goering but also notices: “Aryan business”, or “Jews not admitted”, whereas formerly they had merely written: “Christian business”.

By the 10th of September, in some mysterious fashion, an old Endek pre–election propaganda sheet was strung across a cross–road. It read: “Kalish without Jews”.

As soon as the Germans entered Kalish, they arrested many of the Jews and Poles who had remained in the town. Five or six weeks later, these Jews returned and described how they had been taken to various towns in Germany and exhibited to the population with the explanation: “These are Jewish swine that shot at German soldiers”.

When the town was occupied, German soldiers confiscated all kinds of goods from Jewish and Polish shops alike, particularly cotton goods. Gradually, orders began to appear which affected Jews alone. An order was published that Hitler flags were to be removed from all Jewish houses. German

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officers had already confiscated all the goods from the Jewish shops. Furniture was taken from the dwellings. Many shopkeepers and apartment owners were ordered to vacate their premises within a few hours or even a few minutes and German or Polish families took over. The whole appearance of the town changed within a few days.

So did the external appearance of Kalish Jews. Before the war many had continued to wear the traditional Jewish garb, beards and ear locks, kapota and Jewish caps. Now these disappeared. Everybody wore either ordinary caps or hats. After the many cases in which beards and ear–locks had been ripped from the faces of the Jews by German soldiers, there were scarcely any beards to be seen.

One day the Germans ordered that all Jewish shops had to display a placard of a standard size containing the word: “JUDE”. On 10th October, the Germans ordered the establishment of a “Council of Elders of the Jewish Community”. However, none of the former leaders were left in the town so the governor of Kalish summoned Hahn the cantor of the new synagogue and placed him in charge as Senior of the Elders and ordered him to set up a Council of 25 members to represent the Jews of the city before the authorities and ensure that they obeyed all orders and regulations. The Council members were to be responsible for obedience with their lives and property.

Within 2 days the Council had been set up. Its offices were placed in the former Kehilla building and its first task was to conduct an accurate census of the Jewish population, property, money exceeding 2,000 zloty and all jewellery. Between 15 and 20 persons worked on this task for ten days and nights and 20,000 Jews were recorded.

The Germans began making all kinds of demands of the Council. On one occasion they demanded 50 sets of mattresses within four hours. All goods of this kind in the Jewish shops had been confiscated weeks before so the mattresses were collected by Jews from Jewish homes. If the Jews refused to hand over the bedding, the collectors took them by force. When the Germans demanded money, as they often did, the Council imposed a tax on the rich Jews. But the Council's chief range of activities was the supply of workers for daily labour.

The Labour Department supplied the Germans with 150–200 workers daily on average and as many as 400 on special occasions. The Jews were summoned for two or three days' work a week. Those who wished for exemption paid two or three zloty instead of a day's work or 36 zloty a month. In addition, half a zloty was charged for deferring work for one day on medical exemption authorized by the Council's physicians for which one zloty a day was charged. Many Jews redeemed themselves with money and 60–70% of those sent to work every day were hired substitutes to whom the Council paid 2 zloty for each day's work. This money came from the receipts for exemption and deferment which left the Council with a daily surplus of 50–100 zloty.

The Germans imposed various kinds of work on the Jews who buried Poles that had been shot in the new Jewish cemetery, the barracks, the

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Hospital of the Holy Trinity, the District Government Building, the Public Insurance Building, the Auxiliary Police and the Gestapo. Four Jews were regularly employed removing Polish sign–boards or erasing whatever was written on them, or other Polish texts. A reserve of 10 workers was regularly on duty at the Council offices to deal with sudden demands by the Germans. As a rule, the orders for workers arrived on day before the date they were required. The Germans did not pay any wages but gave bread and lunch in a few places.

The Jews were treated differently in different places. Here and there relations that were almost friendly were established between the German soldiers and the Jews. In such places, the German would give the Jews cigarettes and beer and talk to them freely. Elsewhere, the Jews were beaten, pushed about and hurried up. One day a German stamped the word “Swine” on the foreheads of all the Jews working under him. He ordered them to leave it there for the whole week and inspected them daily to make sure it could still be read. For three weeks, 25 Jews worked on a farm near Kalish. The German soldiers stationed there treated the Jews better than the owner who was a Volksdeutsch woman.

The attitude of the German authorities towards the Council varied from time to time. They made all kinds of demands which were fully satisfied. But there were also cases showing a very different attitude. Once two members were summoned to the Gestapo, arrived at 11a.m. and were locked in a room until dark but no harm was done to them. On another occasion, the Germans took 10 Council members away including the 80 year old Dr. Beatus who was there by chance. They were all savagely beaten, compelled to drill and then given pavements to scrape. Meanwhile, a few Germans were busy photographing the activities. Another time, they went to the Kehilla building and smashed furniture, screens and chairs. They turned the Jewish Gymnasium quarters and the Jewish Elementary School building into a hospital for Polish Prisoners of War.

The new synagogue was locked up and had not yet been damaged. The Germans temporarily housed Polish prisoners of war in the Great Synagogue and the Talmud Torah Building. There were many cases of desecration by them. Thus, they removed the Torah Scrolls from the synagogues at 21 and 29 Ciasna Street and burnt them in the courtyards; and Jewish girls were ordered to dance around the fire. They destroyed another synagogue and flung the Torah Scrolls and religious literature into the river, with blows and shooting. German soldiers entered the home of a poor family on the excuse of sanitary inspection and ordered the mother to strip her seventeen year old daughter and give her a bath.

Flinker, a flour–mill owner who had once edited the local Jewish paper, was murdered following denunciation by his Polish household help who claimed that he had weapons hidden in his home. He was arrested, had a heart attack on the way to prison and was shot by German soldiers. Using the same excuse, the Germans, early in November, also murdered a Polish priest. The Jews were ordered to bury his corpse at the entrance to the Jewish Cemetery.

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When Germans from the Baltic countries were settled in the Reich most of the good flats of Jews and Poles alike were expropriated early in November. Those expelled from their homes were allowed to take next to nothing of their property and were all housed in a monastery. The Baltic Germans who came to Kalish were promptly housed in these apartments. The Poles were gradually released from the monastery and a few were permitted to leave town. All the others were taken to the Market building which had previously housed prisoners of war and army horses.

About the 10th of November, the method of expropriating apartments changed and only those of Jews were taken. The Jews were driven to the Market building. The German gendarmes would close off a street on all sides, order all the Jewish tenants to clear out within a few moments and then conducted them in groups to the Market building. Every few moments fresh Jewish families could be seen crossing the city under guard and carrying little bundles, knapsacks or pillows. They had had so little time and were so confused that each one had snatched what first came to hand.

Some Figures
(from the Ringelblum archives and elsewhere)

by S. Glicksman

The following meagre data to be found in the Ringelblum Archives and the documents of the Joint can help to give a picture of the destruction.

There were 24,000–28,000 Jews in Kalish before September, 1939 when hundreds of families left the city. Some of them returned as soon as military operations were over. In December, 1940 refugees from Kalish were to be found in the following places: 6830 in Warsaw; 75 in Cracow and Glogow; 30 in Tyczyn; 84 in Lancut; 50 in Lezaisk; 1224 in Rzeszow (Reisha) and 150 in Rembertow.

Four large transports left the city, the last departing on Monday 12th December, 1939. One train went to Lublin, the second to Sandomierz, the third to Kaluszyn and the fourth to Lukow. Additional four or five trains also left. Patients from the Old Age Home were sent to Baczki near Lochow on 15th December. It is reported that in January, 248 Kalish Jews were to be found there including 100 old people and 53 children.

After the great expulsion, 400 gravely ill patients remained in the Jewish Hospital including 280 chronic bed cases that could not be moved. A physician and 2 grave diggers were left to look after them and they were permitted to remain until spring. Those looking after them might requisition food for them from locked Jewish apartments. A special permit was necessary to open such dwellings.

There were 1912 Jews in the Market building between the 1st and 22nd of February, 1940 who received extra food from the Hospital. On 23rd February, 1940, they were transferred to Kozminek where a camp was set up for them. The Jewish Council distributed the following rations in

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1940: Half a loaf of bread; 50 grs of butter and 100grs of jam a week. The whole population of the Jewish camp ate in the Kehilla kitchen. There were also children aged less than 14 for whom an elementary school of two classes was set up. They were taught German, Polish, arithmetic and Torah. A kindergarten was set up for 25 children aged less than seven.

The first Kalish Action was conducted between 27th and 30th October, 1940. Its victims were about 250 persons incapable of work, half of them chronic patients from the hospital. They were taken off to an unknown destination, apparently for extermination. The Germans pretended that they had been sent for convalescence. There were 437 persons left including hospital patients. On 1st January, 1941, 439 persons were enumerated. After the Action with the black lorries, about 50 able–bodied young men were left in Kalish. One tailor's workshop was left. In July, 1942, the survivors were transferred to the Lodz ghetto and the Jewish community of Kalish ceased to exist.

Kalish in May, 1962

by Abraham Milgrom

I did not meet a single Jew at the railway station or on the way into town. In general, there is little traffic. I did not find a porter and did not catch a taxi. There were two at the station altogether.

The fate of the handful of Jews who had remained alive was symbolized by my talk with a woman aged about 45 who had a Polish appearance. She asked me whether I was a Jew and when I said I was, she confessed that she was also a Jewess and now married to a Pole. When she had succeeded in escaping from the ghetto, this Pole had helped her to survive the war period.

I saw that it was hard to find living Jews so I went to the dead. There was complete ruination at the cemetery. The gravestones were scattered in the field, smashed to pieces, with little bits lying here and there. The last grave was that of Sonik the dentist who had died in Danzig and had left a will asking to be buried beside his mother's grave. His gravestone recorded that he had been a colonel in the Polish army. I gave the keeper a few zloty and asked him to take a little care of the graves but doubt whether he will do anything. The cemetery calls for attention.

Naturally, industry and trade are all government enterprises. The members of the free professions work in cooperatives: cooperative of lawyers, of barbers, etc. I heard complaints about the absence of private trade and told them: “You always preached that Poles should not buy from Jews. There are no Jews no – go and buy from one another!”

The workers are not satisfied with their wages either. I found satisfaction only among the pensioners. They had never dreamed that they would receive a pension from the government. But actually, none of this was my affair. I did not find Jews.

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The Finish

by Dov Zielonka

It was April 1945. After many air attacks we were ordered to leave the camp. I worked on the day shift. Work stopped right away. The S.S. men drove us out. Meanwhile, people ran to the kitchen to find some food. I tried my luck as well. The kitchen was full and the men fought one another in order to grab something. The Nazi Commandant drew his pistol and ordered us to get out But he shot at the ceiling and the window and nobody moved though a couple had been already injured while fighting for food. A squad of S.S men burst in and began beating us At last we went out, marching I had not succeeded in grabbing anything in the kitchen.

The streets were empty and shots could be heard on every side. Aeroplanes were diving and shooting Our guards were moving close to the walls while we were in the middle of the street. Where were we going? Nobody knew.

That evening we reached some camp or other On the other side of the barbed wire fence boys aged ten to thirteen were dragging heavy beams of wood two by two while a German followed them carrying a rubber truncheon We did not know who the children were.

All of a sudden we saw a twelve-year old boy among us. Clearly he was not one of ours for our children had already been exterminated in Auschwitz. We spoke to him in many languages. He did not answer. A German aged about sixty went over to him but the boy did not answer him either The German too a slice of bread out of his wallet and the boy dashed to take it but the German signed to him to go behind him to the wall of the nearest house. He gave him the bread, turned him with his face to the wall and shot him.

We had been marching for a fortnight now, sometimes by day and sometimes by night. We had long lost every human likeness. Men who were wizened with starvation kept on dropping without interruption. We reached a town that was being bombed constantly. Here we hoped we would be saved. But the Germans led us by side roads to a branch of a narrow gauge railway. Here they crushed about 100 of us in a goods waggon and locked the doors. Our guards vanished We felt that we were choking and yelled. But nobody heard our voices. The time seemed to pass like an eternity.

They opened the waggons in the morning. A dense vapour burst out like steam from a boiler. The S.S men drove us on. It was the end of April, a fine day! We were marching through the mountains between Marienbad and Karlsbad. Laznowski was almost exhausted. Aeroplanes appeared very high up. Sender was still full of faith and confidence. All of a sudden, the German officer yelled: “They're diving!” All the S.S men dashed to shelter in a wood nearby but ordered us to lie down. The plane came diving down a moment later and began circling around us. I could see the muzzles of the machine guns only ten metres from me. Another plane arrived They

[Page 290]

did not shoot After circling for about ten minutes, they cleared off.. They must have seen that we were prisoners. “Nothing is going to happen to you any more” said the German officer jokingly.

We went on. It was Friday evening. Rain was falling without a break. We were wet through and our souls were weeping Joseph Meir Seidel, our spiritual leader who always put heart into us, now began to lose his faith. There was some inhabited place five kilometres further on. Maybe we would rest there. They ordered us to stop. Rain was pelting down. Two S.S. men rode off to town to see whether we could pass through. An hour later came the order: Turn back! Where to? It was dark. We turned back for a distance of two kilometres. There was a stable with a broken roof. They marched us in. Wet animal droppings. Our feet sank in manure. We burst out weeping. Simeon Zucker wept and cried: “Lord of the Universe, end our troubles”.

Now we decided not to march any further I fell down. I fell asleep and dreamt of Passover at home. The table was covered with the best of everything The family was seated around it. I was asking the Four Questions All of a sudden I felt a sharp pain and opened my eyes. A German had hit me over the head with a stick. Everybody went out except eight who were not awakened even by the German sticks. I gazed with envy at these men who had already been delivered.

It was the 6th of May. Men were collapsing on the road? Anybody who could not run was shot by the German who had murdered the hungry boy. I no longer had the strength to move. My sandals were worn out and their soles were tied around my feet with rope. My strength was giving out. Two companions supported me and brought me into the font line so that the professional murderer should not shoot me It was already dark and we were still running. It was after midnight At last they put us in a stable This time it was dry I tumbled down. I think it was our fifth day without any food If only I could lie and not stand up again.

It was still dark and they were already beating and yelling. On the march again. The S.S. were no longer counting us. The officer was carrying a knapsack. We already had marched 15 kilometres. Now we heard that the village through which we had passed that morning had already been liberated. Was it possible?

Passing through another village, two men tried to hide. The S.S. men beat them murderously. All of a sudden, a roll of bread fell beside me. I could not believe my eyes Somebody had thrown it from a window. I shared it with my five companions. There was no desire to go on. We were only 15 kilometres away from freedom!

Once again we decided we would go no further. Without a word, we all sat in the field. The commander was nervous. In his knapsack he had a civilian suit. He left us sitting while he himself dashed this way and that, looking at his watch every few moments. After ten minutes had passed, he ordered: “Get up, get on!” We remained sitting. He yelled again. We did not budge. He summoned the S.S. men – drew his pistol and shot in the air.

[Page 291]

Our companion Moshe stood up bared his body which was covered with bruises and sores and said: “Leave us along. I've left a wife and child and I want to see them again. The war is over. Why should we die at the last minutes?”

His words made their impression. The German lowered his pistol. At that moment, we rose and dispersed in all directions. I ran through a sown field with a strength which suddenly appeared although my companions had had to support me only a few minutes earlier. I heard shots but I went on running.


I was too impatient to stay at this hospital in Saatz in the Sudetenland. The war had ended a month earlier and something was driving me back to Kalish. I had seen my two younger sisters leave for Auschwitz in 1944. They must surely be back in Kalish desperately awaiting my arrival. After all I was responsible for them. I tried to walk but my legs would not carry me. The doctor refused to allow me to leave. In spite of this, I decided to go.

I learnt to walk again and a few days later I was out in the streets asking how I could get back to Poland I met a group of Poles who had been doing forced labour here. They would be leaving for Poland by a special train in a few days. I promptly joined them.

Now at last I was on the way. The train crawled. I felt really ill. We reached Kattowitz after a fortnight. There I left the others to make my way to Kalish. At six o'clock in the morning I got out at the railway station amid a huge crowd. My eyes were searching for a Jew. What had happened to all the Jews of Kalish? The municipal bus took me to town. I got off at the Town Hall.

It was a fine summer's day and I was back in the city where I had been born and grew up. Yet, how alien the whole place was! I searched for a Jew in the Old Market. There were none! With a beating heart, I dashed to N°5 Babina Street where we had lived. I went in a spoke to the janitor. At first he did not recognize me: “Jusef, don't you know me?” He recognized me, crossed himself and asked whether anybody else of the family had come. I told him that my sisters ought to be here. He shrugged his shoulders. He had not seen them.

I asked for water. The fellow could not understand what was going on inside me. He said that he would give me coffee in a little while and that we would have some breakfast. I sat in his dwelling for an hour. I then rose and departed. I went out and came back at once to ask: “Maybe you know where a Jew lives here?” He answered that one had been living in Babina Street but had already moved away.

The moments that followed were maybe the worst in my life. What was I to do? I had reached my destination. Here I was in Kalish. I had managed to reach the end of the war. Was this the life that would follow? Why,

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I was an unnecessary person in the world, without a penny in my pocket, ill, in rags and tatters and without a roof over my head!

The Town Hall clock struck the hour of ten. I had been walking through the streets for four hours and had gone around the park five times already. Where could I go? Tears fell from my eyes and once again I found myself by the Town Hall. My legs were failing. I sat down on a stone opposite the bus station. I dropped my head and fell asleep. A woman woke me up and asked if I was a Jew. Yes, I answered, I am a Jew. She pointed to the house of Apt and said: “You'll find Jews there”.

I went up and met with the Jewish Committee of Kalish.


Barbed Wire Fence


[Page 293]

My Dream

by Halina Liebeskind

I dream of a journey afar
That is quiet and storm less and good.
I dream of a distant corner
Far away in the peace of a wood.

And I dream of a lonely island
Under the shade of a tree
Where I shall not long for people.
Yes, that is the dream I see.

The beauty of Nature I'll cherish.
All along I shall swallow the air
Oh, how sweet my life will become
When I'm done with all bitterness there.

The grasses will serve me for food.
I shall live on the fruit of the trees.
I shall pick corals for berries
While the birds will sing me of peace

And when I shall have to depart
From that loveliest world of them all,
The forest will sing me a death-song
And I shall give up my soul.

And no one will shed tears for me,
My memory will vanish away,
And none will lament for my passing
Save the winds as they wander and stray.

Halina Liebeskind was thirteen years old when she arrived in the Warsaw ghetto with her parents. During the Revolt in the ghetto she sheltered in a bunker which the Germans discovered. She was sent from Warsaw to Lublin, but by a miracle, she was not sent to Maidanek. Instead, she reached the Birkenau camp with her aunt and was sent from there to Ravensburg where she remained until the liberation.

The original poem was written in Polish.


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