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Portraits and Characters

Translated by Judy Montel

Rabbi Mosze Mendel Walden

Reb' Mosze Mendel Walden son of Reb' Aharon Walden, author of the book “Shem HaGdolim HaChadash” [The New Book of Great Ones] was a bookseller. He was of the type that Mendele Mocher Sforim described so well in his fiction and presented to us perfectly.

However, there was a difference between the Kielce bookseller and Mendele's character. Mendele's character was a nomad: he traveled from city to city, town to town with his skinny mare pulling a cart full of books. Mosze Mendel, on the other hand, knew the meaning of a good rest. He sat there in his shop among the piles of his books and waited for a customer to come in. He would say: “Vai to the merchant who goes from door to door with his wares! A merchant whose honor is precious to him and who respects his business awaits buyers in his shop.”

In his shop were all sorts of religious books: prayer books for every day and for holidays, books of women's beseeching prayers, prayers of repentance and dirges, books in Yiddish about the weekly portion etc. Among the books of the bible one could find in his shop Pentateuchs with 32 commentaries, a few of the books of the prophets, with Ivri-Taitch (translation into Yiddish). Of the scriptures he had only the “Tehilim'lach” [Little Psalms] required by every householder in Israel. Also a few of the Gemaras required by the students in the “cheder”. Sometimes we could also obtain some of the books of casuistry there: “Sha'agat Arye”, “Pnei Yehoshua”, “Noda B'Yehuda” and others; but these only arrived at his shop in used condition.

Thus, for example, when one of our acquaintance departed to the world of all goodness and willed his son books of Gemara, arbiters and bible, what was the unfortunate heir to do? At first he allocates a place for them in some corner; however, after a while, when a thick layer of dust has accumulated upon them he says: “why should these names take up space in my home?” he then turns to Mosze Mendel and the latter removes the “leavening” from his home.

It once happened that a Polish priest entered his store. He wanted to purchase a Hebrew bible from him. At first Mosze Mendel was frightened: “what did a priest want with his shop?” he said to himself, and his heart pounded in his chest as in the “Gazlan”. He was probably there as part of a plot. However, it became clear immediately clear that the “heathen” had come to do business, and harbored no bad thoughts. The word “biblia” which came from the priest's mouth frequently calmed him and the fear left him entirely.

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Via a small window that connected to the kitchen, he called his wife Sara. She wiped her dirty hands on her apron and appeared before the priest. The women usually know the national language more than the men do. In the market, they come into contact with the peasant women who bring their produce to the city and the Jewish women learn their language from them.

She understood the priest's desire without any delays. In a pile of old books that were heaped out of order in a corner of the shop, she found the “biblia” and handed it to the priest. In answer to the priest's question the woman mentioned a round sum: a silver ruble. The priest did not bargain, paid the ruble, took the book and went on his way voicing a parting to the couple who stood astounded in the shop.

It had never happened that a buyer had given them the entire price that they asked of him; a price – by nature went continually down until it reached a level from which it was not possible to lower it any further. And who was the innocent who would pay the full price?

From that time, Mosze Mendel understood a principle in life. He had always been troubled by a serious question: “why do the Jews choose to dwell among the gentiles? Why don't they pack up their things and move to the land of Israel, the land that has only Jews?” Now he found the answer: a Jew cannot make a living except from “Goyim”.

From then on, whenever a Jew entered his shop to buy a prayer book for daily or holiday use or such things and took a long time to bargain, Reb' Mosze Mendel would say: “Oy Va'voi for me and my wares if my customers were only Jews; happily there are gentiles among my customers as well; priests come to my shop! Say what you will, but I will tell you, you can't make a living from Jews, bounty and income come from the heathens!”

Reb' Chaim Jehoszua Lewensztajn

kie227.jpg - [9 KB] - Reb' Chaim Jehoszua Lewensztajn

One of the Jewish inhabitants of Kielce who was gloriously and respectfully known was Reb' Chaim Jehoszua Lewensztajn. This exceptional man had unique qualities and all of the Jews of Kielce held him in high regard and affection.

In spite of his being a religious man – a Sokolowi Chassid – he owned a pharmacy and was expert in all sorts of medicines and was the support of many of the sick poor, who came to him on medical matters that troubled them instead of going to a doctor who would demand payment.

In general he was always willing to come to the aid of anyone who turned to him, even if this help of his meant some inconvenience, effort and money he did not stint any of them in order to help his fellows.

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Aside from this he acquired an excellent reputation in his profession as a “mohel” (one who conducts circumcisions). He was an expert without parallel among the “mohels”, he performed the circumcision, the “pri'a” and “metzitza” [ritual segments of the circumcision] in an instant; in this way the infant being circumcised did not even have time to make a sound. According to the rules of hygiene he removed the old means of antiseptic from use and only used the means accepted among the doctors. This holy labor he always performed for no reward. He settled in Kielce before World War I. He died in the fullness of his days and the Jews of Kielce did him a great honor at his funeral. In spite of the fact that he had lived in Kielce only a short time he had still circumcised thousands of children and left a glorious reputation behind him among Kielcers as one of its most excellent and favorite citizens.

Mosze Ajlbirt

Mosze Ajlbirt was fortunate enough to be famous in his city not for his great wealth; he had fame during the time that he was a mere peddler, who offers his meager wares for sale on market days. His name became well known not because of the silk stockings with which he equipped the daughters of Israel and the daughters of the gentiles inexpensively. The praise for the stockings must be accounted not to his credit but to that of his spouse, a woman of valor who stayed in Lodz most of the weekdays, acquiring damaged goods from the manufacturers at cheap prices and sending them to Kielce to her husband. Many jumped at such goods, especially among the young women.

So what was the main reason for his fame? For if you ask anyone of the citizens of Kielce: “Do you know Mosze Ajlbirt?” he will look at you in amazement as if to say: “Of course! Who doesn't know Mosze Ajlbirt?”

Not his wealth, not the silk stockings and also not Saski the pharmacist's big building that became his portion gave him renown in the city, but – his voice. His voice made him famous among all segments of the Jews of Kielce, especially among the women. His wonders and achievements in song were especially notable during the High Holidays, when he stood in front of the ark during the Musaf prayer wrapped in white. Whoever did not hear his “Netaneh Tokef” or the “Hayom Harat Olam” might as well have never heard singing and vocalizing in his life.

And Mosze showed his strength not only on the High Holidays; also on a regular Sabbath, when the spirit of song and melody rested upon him, he would stand up in front of the ark for the “Kabalat Shabat” prayers. Pleasant of melody in “Lecha Dodi” he would sound the voice of love and release that end in sounds of joy and enthusiasm. His soul had been quarried from the source of music and song. In spite of the fact that he was a businessman, preoccupied with buying and selling, with repaying notes at the banks etc. he found spiritual satisfaction only in music.

It once happened; for example, that his shop was full of customers, his wife and her assistants were all occupied with selling socks and silk stockings.

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And suddenly, in such a time of commotion the angel of music appears and whispers a pleasant melody to Reb' Mosze. The latter sneaks away from the shop, leaves his wife and her assistants, the silk stockings and the selling of them, stands there in the market and hums the new “nigun” [tune].

And Reb' Mosze's acquaintances knew that on the coming Sabbath, Mosze will sing it for them all with much embellishment in the house of prayer when he stands in front of the ark to lead the prayers.

Aszer Friszman

Ten measures of jokes and clever riddles came down to the world, the Jews took nine of them, and one measure was divided up among all the nations. This attribute with which the Jews were graced was a well-known ingredient of theirs against the troubles in which they lived in the darkness of their lives in exile. In the bitterest moment, at a time when a murky nightmare was sullying the soul of the Jew, his friend came along and with his jokes and witticisms he would introduce a speck of light, a spark of joy into his darkened spirit, and the power of such a spark was enough to save spirits from bitter blackness.

Also in the city of Kielce such a joking man lived and his name was Aszer Friszman, from the family of the author Dawid Friszman. Wherever Friszman was standing a group of people immediately collected around him to hear his jokes and jests, and immediately the sounds of laughter would burst out among them, which made a person of Israel forget their trials and tribulations.

Friszman's material circumstances were not the most glowing: he sold lottery tickets and when his own fate did not work out – his circumstances were most dire, but in spite of this he was always overflowing with jokes and witticisms, as if all of the difficulties of life were a joke to him.

For a while he was a member of the Chassidim, wearing long clothing and praying in the “shtibl” of the Chassidim of Rosprza. But superstitions were distasteful to him; he made especial fun of those Chassidim who told of miracles and wonders that they saw with their own eyes at the various Admo”rs.

Once he sat in the “shtibl” on a winter evening after the Mincha and Ma'ariv prayers among a group of Chassidim who were telling one another of the wondrous acts of the righteous ones. When they finished their stories, he opened his mouth and said: “Now I have understood the verse in Psalms [Psalms 149/1] 'Sing a new song to God, his praise is in the congregation of the pious [Chassidim]'. If his praise is in the congregation of the Chassidim, that is to say, if the Chassidim praise their rabbis with the same praises with which they praise God, therefore one must sing a new song to God.”

When the Zionist Association was founded in Kielce, he was the first to lend them a hand: the idea of rebirth enchanted him and because of Zionism he was forced to leave the “shtibl”. However, even though he came into the company of the Zionists and was friendly with people who were liberal thinkers, in spite of this he continued to hew to the ancestral traditions and customs. Once he met an “avrech” [married Torah scholar], formerly a Chassid, sitting with his head uncovered and drinking tea. He turned to him and said: “I have been debating with myself for these fifteen years regarding the problem to find rabbinical permission for “uncovering the head”; and you, apparently, found the permission easily. Perhaps you would be willing to reveal to me the source of the 'permission'?”

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He would say in the name of an “apikors” [heretic] whose custom was to not fast on the Fast of Gedalia for three reasons, which were:

  1. if he (the apikors) were to be killed, Gedalia would probably not have fasted for him; and therefore why should he fast for them killing Gedalia?
  2. if Gedalia hadn't been killed back then, in any case he would not be alive any more today; and the main reason:
  3. since this is not a fast that is more serious than the Day of Atonement; and since he doesn't fast on the Day of Atonement, how can he fast on the Fast of Gedalia for this would be an insult to the honor of that holy day.

His clever jests found their way among the city's inhabitants and earned him the reputation of a clever and educated man, and till this day, when Jews of Kielce meet in Israel or abroad, you will hear one of them say to the other: “Aszer Friszman used to say…”

His sons also inherited a sense of humor and joke from their father. His son Dawid excelled especially among them in this regard, of all of them only Dr. A. Friszman who is in Israel remained alive.

Mejer Cetel

There was a Jew living in Kielce who became very famous, not just among the members of the covenant, but also among the gentiles, and not just among simple people, but among the ruling classes as well. He became famous not because of his great wealth; he was impoverished and not well-to-do, a simpler peddler, who bought chickens or a geese from the peasant women who came to the city in order to later sell them to the householders for a small profit.

Could it be his great wisdom that earned him a reputation in the country? But why would you find wisdom in a poor peddler? The wisdom of the downtrodden is scorned; and even he himself didn't concern himself with wisdom; he didn't know how to tell the difference between wisdom and foolishness. In his eyes, Reb' Mosze Arindel's, who handed down rabbinical decisions in the city, was a wise man, and the rabbi of the city is the wisest of the entire congregation, for whom no hidden thing is not understandable, he yearned to hear their words, which were holy in his eyes.

He himself never bothered his mind with questions: what belongs up and what belongs down? He was a simple man, he followed the ways of his ancestors, prayed three times a day, not forgetting to spit in “Aleinu”. On the Sabbath after a nap he would read Psalms in public in the synagogue. The moods of the world did not concern him, they were above his conception.

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But then what gave him fame and honor in spite of it all? For his external appearance didn't contribute to the matter. How could a poultry salesman have anything to do with glory and splendor? The hair on his head was filled with feathers, his beard was sparse; his clothing – a worn “kapote” shiny with use; not all of his external appearance had anything in it to bring him honor and respect.

However, in spite of this he was the only one among the Jews of Kielce who was decorated with the symbol of honor of the state of Poland, and who, in all of the celebratory parades was placed in the front row by the Poles next to their most honored citizens and who was pointed at by people saying: “That is a Jew who did a great service to the country of Poland.”

And how did he reach this greatness? A simple occurrence that Reb' Mejer didn't notice to begin with, and which, after a while, he forgot about entirely.

At the beginning of World War I the first to enter Kielce were the Polish Legions with their commander Pilsudski at their head. The Russian occupying force left Kielce and encamped in the village Dombrowa and dug itself in there between the hills.

The inhabitants of Kielce received the Legions with pomp and circumstance. The Russians, when they saw the Legionary force was not large, decided to encircle them and take them hostage. They sent platoons of Cossacks in every direction and began shelling the city with heavy cannon. The Legions, sensing the danger that awaited them, began to retreat to the west and south in the direction of Kraczowka and Bialogon. They scattered in the forests and attempted to reach the main camp, which was encamped about thirty-five kilometers from Kielce at Jedrzejow. However, for many the roads were blocked and they were forced to hide in Kielce proper. In spite of the fact that the Russians returned to Kielce and occupied it for another three days, in spite of this, not a single Legionnaire fell into their hands. The Legionnaires who remained in the city mingled easily with their fellow Poles.

However on the road leading southwards in the direction of Checiny three Legionnaires ran into a Cossack platoon; soon the Legionnaires were surrounded with now way out. In order to save their lives, they jumped through a fence into a fruit garden, which was leased by the aforementioned Mejer Cetel. They asked him for shelter from the Cossacks who were chasing them.

This simple Jew, who was full of the spirit of Judaism from his mother's womb and from birth and the commandment: “Do not stand upon the blood of your fellow” operated within his subconscious, didn't think much and hid them in his hut in the garden. For three days they sat in the hiding place, and the Jewish gardener brought them bread and water. On the fourth day, when the Russians had completely retreated from the city to the Warsaw side, the Legionnaires came out of their hiding place and wrote down the name of their savior as a memorial.

Years later, when Pilsudski's men took over the government, these three Legionnaires were also elevated.

In those days, the three great men remembered the sensation of the Jew of Kielce, they recalled that he had saved them from the wild Cossacks and wanted to get some political gain from this fact. They themselves came to Kielce to give the honor and respect due to the Jew who participated in such an obvious manner in the Polish war of liberation.

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In the square before the municipality building, next to the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the leaders of the authorities gathered and with great pomp decorated Mejer Cetel with the symbol of honor for his excellent service to the liberation fighters.

From that time, Reb' Mejer Cetel became a Polish patriot and was invited to every celebration and every parade and would walk in a row together with the veteran Polish fighters.

But a few years before the outbreak of World War II anti-Semitism among the Poles became much stronger due to the influence of the Nazis; and the disease of anti-Semitism, which spread among all of the classes and also in the ranks of the leadership, hurt Mejer Cetel as well. Once when he returned from some parade, decorated with his symbol of honor, one of the Polish thugs assaulted him and tore the medal of excellence from his clothing, crying: “Jew – to Palestine!”

Mejer Cetel came home depressed. Suddenly he had fallen from a high level into a deep pit. And thus he returned to his grey life, the life of a poultry salesman in Israel.

Kalman Gejst the Zionist

We never knew who Kalman Gejst's ancestors were, but he himself was known by the entire city. He was especially easy to find in the homes of the Zionists; there, in the company of the people of Zion he felt at home.

And the two sides gained mutual benefit from these visits: Kalman would receive news in the homes of the Zionists about the progress of the movement in the world and what was happening in the land of Israel; the Zionist matrons would use him for their various chores, he would carry their baskets from the market, he would carry the “Cholent” to the baker on Friday afternoon, etc.

And aside from the Zionist news, with which he was enriched in these homes, he would also receive material reward: a slice of bread, a cup of tea, sometimes a hot dish. But for Kalman the material reward was just a side issue. Being in the company of the Zionists was his greatest reward. He saw in Zionism the essence of his life. All of his conversation and speech, all of his thoughts and resources were devoted to just one thing – to Zionism.

Kalman's main ambition was to move to the land of Israel. For this goal he gave up on many things a person needs, neglected himself and did not even learn a profession which could support its owner. He also did not marry, even when he reached middle age. What point was there in having children in the Diaspora: If God willed it and he succeeded in moving to the land of Israel, then he would start a family there.

He admired the pioneers and the leaders of the Zionist movement his entire life.

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At first he was at the vanguard of those opposing the Revisionists, but when he saw that the people of authority within the movement were not helping him to get a permit to move to Israel, he changed to the camp of Jabotinsky.

However, redemption did not come from here either, and poor Kalman, the innocent and devoted to rebirth of the people did not stay alive and was not redeemed!

*  *

These characters which I have introduced in this book are not here to teach about themselves, but to teach about the generality.

The part they all had in common is the special coloration with which the Kielce landscape imbued its inhabitants. Broad hearts and souls, alertness of thought and feeling were typical characteristics of the Jews of Kielce.

It is no wonder, therefore, that the Zionist movement found its place in Kielce immediately in its first period. Cultural and social institutions were established as soon as the community was founded.

The Kielce community was a shining pearl in the framework of the communities of Polish Jewry, a precious stone embedded in the crown of Israel!!

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The Story of the Ghetto and Liquidation

Beginning of the End

At the end of the summer of 1939, when Hitler commanded his minions to invade Poland, the Jews were filled with fear. They knew and felt what to expect from this enemy, who publicly declared his plots against the Jews. There then began a widespread movement of the Jews from the western districts to the eastern districts. And as the enemy armies progressed towards the interior of the country, thus the extent of the stream, eastward towards Russia grew. All of the roads, all of the paths were filled with refugees and were a target for the airplanes of the enemy, who flew low and destroyed them with various munitions.

Also within the area of the occupation there was – at the start of the war – internal movement from place to place. Families from Warsaw, Lodz, Sosnowiec and other places came to Kielce. The Kielce community that had numbered twenty three thousand souls grew at the start of the war and the number of people reached thirty thousand, even after a large portion of its permanent residents fled to rural cities on the Russian side.

Kielce did not suffer greatly from the bombs of the enemy; aside from a few buildings that were destroyed or damaged, there were no signs of war in the city.

On September 4th the Nazis entered the city and the Jewish population felt the yoke of the oppressor immediately during the first few days. The city leaders were captured and taken to jail as hostages; they were responsible for ensuring that all the commands and edicts that were given to the Jews would be filled exactly and completely on schedule. They were frequently exchanged, so that no one was sure that it would not be his fate to be a hostage. The oppressors gave the Jews collective punishments of enormous sums, confiscated their apartments and possessions, took their children to forced labor etc.

Not long after this a command was given that a Jew was forbidden to manage a commercial establishment, shop or factory. The Nazis set Aryan commissioners in every shop and factory that belonged to Jews, and they treated the Jewish property as if it was their own.

To begin with they would transfer some monthly amount to the owner of the property; however, once the goods had been sold and others did not replace them, the shop was closed and its owners came out without their property and didn't even receive a minimal payment with which to maintain their families.

Commissioners were also appointed to the large properties of the Jews to collect the rents from the lodgers, and the owner was allotted a miserable sum for his livelihood.

These edicts limited the means by which the Jewish population could get income.

In addition to this the Nazis decreed that everyone must turn over to the authorities the foodstuffs in their possession. The division of the food among the inhabitants was assigned to the municipal authority. The Jews were forced to hand over all of the food that they had prepared for themselves for lean days.

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From now on the Jewish population was in the grip of hunger. It was not enough that the allotted food ration was very small, but the Jew was deprived even when he received the food ration, for he was pushed and shoved out of the line and was beaten and kicked; many times he came home empty handed without bread for his hungry infants.

The religious Jews with beards and side-locks suffered especially; they were a target for the arrows of scorn of the S.S. who strolled arrogantly in the streets of the city. Such a Jew who came to their attention did not get away cleanly if he fell into their hands. One such instance out of thousands will be told here:

Once in the month of Tevet Jews were going to a warm “mikve” in the morning, as was their habit in normal times. Polish “shkeitzim” went to the S.S. men and told them about it. The S.S. were happy that they had a good opportunity to mock the Jews. Accompanied by Polish gentile men and women who came to see the sight, the thugs entered the “mikve” and with the whips in their hands they chased the bathers, naked as the day they were born, out into the courtyard in front of the synagogue. A signal was given to the “shkeitzim” and “shkeitzot” to throw snowballs at the miserable and freezing Jews, who ran about the courtyard looking for cover from the barbarians' attacks. This incident was photographed by the Nazis, who always took care to always send their loved ones in Germany scenes of their acts of courage towards the Jews.

This was the first stage of the Nazi's cruelty towards the Jews. In this stage their goal was to weaken and humiliate the Jew, in order to take from him the strength and ability to protest against his torturers.

At this stage there were several individual murders, whose goal was to sow fear among the Jewish population, during those days the sons of Sercarz, Jakob son of Dawid Manela and others, whose names did not reach us.

Although there was a period of time that the Jews deluded themselves that the rule of the Nazis over the Jews was changing for the better. A commandant came to Kielce who began drawing the Jews to him and giving them economic positions. Thus he gave Jechezkel Lemberg the export of eggs. He and his assistants were given the task of buying eggs in the Kielce region and turning them over to the economic committee for export to Germany. Jakob Kohen of Checiny was given such a role for the export of leather, and others were given similar positions with regard to grain, feathers etc. For a while these Jews were busy with their tasks, and they didn't just profit themselves, but found jobs for other Jews. The word went out that the Jews of Kielce had found relief and reached even the Jews who had fled eastwards and many of those began to return to their place of origin.

But not much time went by and the situation regressed to what it had been formerly. That commandant, who had had mercy on the Jews, was removed from his position. And the one who replaced him was a crude and ruthless man, who came to take revenge upon the Jews for having enjoyed his predecessor's rule. Those who had been working at exporting goods to Germany were accused of embezzlement, they were arrested and died under terrible torture. Their property was confiscated and their families were left without bread.

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In spite of all of these murderous attacks, the Jews of Kielce could bear the suffering and torment. The got used to the sights of death, adjusted to a life of starvation; the rich sold the remnants of their former wealth to bring food to their homes. The poor went to forced labor in order to maintain their own lives and those of their children.

This situation continued until 1941, until the entrance of the United States and Soviet Russia into the war, from that day forward the attitude of the Nazis towards the Jews changed entirely. Until now they had not wanted to appear before the nations of the world as public murderers and had done their acts of murder under the guise of punishments for breaking the law.

Now, when they were cut off from the world and large areas of Europe, Asia and even Africa were under their control, they felt themselves to be rulers of the world and able to do whatever they wanted to with the Jews.

They went about the work of liquidation with Germanic method according to a plan prepared in advance.

First of all, the enemy didn't want the Jews to be scattered and mingled among the Christian inhabitants, but concentrated in one place. In this way, he could be sure that his prey would not escape him, and thus the ghetto was created.

Jailing the Jews in the Ghetto

In Kielce the northwestern part of the city was allotted to ghetto.

The Jews were forced to leave their homes, to leave their furniture and all of their possessions and to move to the ghetto within a very short time. Aside from the plot of destruction, the Nazis intended to use the creation of the ghetto to take over the possessions of the Jews; and indeed those who wanted to save something of their property and delayed in their apartments a little bit after the time that had been set were shot on the spot.

In the ghetto – in this crowded area the Jews lived a bitter life. The hunger and crowding took their toll, and disease and epidemics killed many people. Leaving the ghetto was strictly forbidden and the delinquents who risked their lives and went out to search for food for their children usually never returned. They were shot on the way.

To ensure that their orders and decrees were fulfilled exactly, the Nazi authorities set up a Jewish council in the ghetto with a Jewish police alongside it, who had to ensure that the entire Jewish population followed every decree and command. Thus, for example, a command was given to hand over hundreds of strong young men, suitable for backbreaking work for forced labor. The council with the aid of the police fulfilled this command precisely.

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As one of the survivors of Kielce, Szymon Celcer, reported, the head of the Jewish police was Rzymnowoda and his deputy was Szindler (a German Jew) and the two of them behaved very decently in fulfilling their duties, and most of the rest of the members of the police were decent people. However, among the policemen there were also those who were agents of the Gestapo, headed by Johan Szpigiel, Proszowski, Bialobroda, Strawczinski and others, who harassed the Jewish population very much and their behavior was like that of the Nazis themselves.

The Germans killed Rzymnowoda at the end of 1941 and Szindler in 1942 when the population was deported to Treblinka.

The first council head was Dr. Pelc. Once he was given an order to give shots of poison to the ill and weak who were in the hospital to get rid of them in a manner that appeared to be natural and not arouse fear among the Jews. Dr. Pelc refused to carry out this cruel order. The Nazis put him in jail. From there he was sent to the extermination camp in Auschwitz. However his behavior did not serve as an example of sanctifying God's name to the rest of his fellow doctors. This satanic order was carried out by two other cowardly doctors. Afterwards it was the turn of the orphanage and they demanded that their caretaker bring all the orphans outside and arrange them in a row, in order to transfer them to another building. The caretaker and the children did not know what awaited them and went to death with childlike innocence. When they arrived at the place the murderers commanded the caretaker to strip the children of their clothing. The executioners spared the clothing of the poor children, that they not be lost with the victims.

The caretaker refused to carry out the executioners' order and called out: “Despicable murderers, God's vengeance will find you for spilling the blood of innocent children!” and with these words she jumped into the pit in which she was immediately shot. After that the executioners began shooting the children and throwing them into the pit.

Then the head of the Gestapo, Hamfel, came up and said: “Don't waste so many bullets; use just one bullet per child!” and he shot the children one at a time until they all fell dead.

Before the enemy began to liquidate the ghetto, he wanted to remove the Jewish intelligentsia from there, the doctors, the lawyers and the schoolteachers.

For this purpose an order was given that all of the people of this type should congregate outside of the ghetto at a certain place, since they were about to be sent to places where they needed doctors and educated people.

With the aid of the police the doctors and the rest of the professionals were removed to the Jewish cemetery where they were all shot to death. The young doctor Fiszer, who wanted to take revenge on his murderers before his death grabbed a tombstone and cracked the skull of the head of the Gestapo with it.

The Ukrainian guards, the Gestapo and several of the Jewish police, who had been recruited from the underworld joined forces to wreak havoc on the inhabitants of the ghetto.

However, the life force of the Jews was very strong. Gradually the Jews got used to life in the ghetto. The head of the Jewish council after Dr. Pelc was Herman Lewi, a Kielce industrialist. A social department was organized by the council whose job was to give aid to the sick, the weak and the needy in general.

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With ingenuity and various tricks they brought food into the ghetto. People sold their clothing, their kitchen utensils etc. The Christian peasant women would bring foodstuffs to the barbed wire fence and receive in return clothing, kitchen utensils and other things. The young and those with muscles who were capable of difficult work would leave on foot every morning for the nearby labor camps, to “Ludwikow” and “Henrikow” and return in the evening. On the way they would sometimes get food and bring it to their parents and children.

In spite of the murderous blows the Nazis bestowed upon those who hid food among their tools, they still did not stop bringing food into the wall s of the ghetto and thus temporarily easing the hunger pangs of those who were trapped there without hope of being saved.

There was an attempt by several young men who left the ghetto and joined the Polish leftist underground, which was hiding in the forests around the city. The active ones of them were: Hermansztat, a teacher of gymnastics in Mrs. Wolman's Gymnasium, Fajnsztat and others; this underground saved several people here and there when the ghetto was liquidated; but due to informers from the right wing Polish underground, they were captured by the Gestapo in the end and murdered.

The inhabitants of the ghetto eventually became so weak that they started viewing life and death apathetically.

Liquidation of the Ghetto
and Destruction of the Population

And finally the third stage arrived, the day of the liquidation of the ghetto. The bitter day, 9th of Elul 5702 (22 of August, 1942), on which the community of Kielce was destroyed, is engraved on the hearts of survivors of Kielce as an eternal day of mourning.

Fear fell upon the inhabitants of the ghetto. News had reached them of the great killing that was being done among the Jews of the area. It was hard for them to believe the rumors, for the Nazis would conceal their satanic intentions until the last moment. But the air was saturated with fear and terror.

With frozen expectation they awaited some command which would arrive from outside. The fear of the adults passed also to the little ones. The children crowded into their mother's laps fearfully.

Only the Chassidim, the elderly, whose faith had not yet been shaken, read Psalms and prayed for the decree to be averted.

And then the ghetto was surrounded by a chain of Ukrainian and Latvian soldiers. The Jewish police was given a command to bring the Jews out of their apartments and line them up in the streets of the ghetto.

An order was given that every one of the deportees could take with him luggage weighing ten kilograms. It was forbidden to cry aloud. Whoever did not obey this command would be shot on the spot. Everything must be carried out in order, in military discipline, quietly, without complaint.

[Page 242]

The Jewish police was responsible for the accurate execution of all of the orders.

That day no one left the ghetto; even those who worked in the labor camps remained in the ghetto that day.

When all of the Jews of the ghetto were standing in order on Jasna field next to Zganaska street in long rows, those who had work cards were removed from their midst, they were allowed to remain in their places. Among them were many who had work cards but didn't show them, because they didn't want to be parted from their families; what happened to those closest to them, they decided in their hearts, would happen to them as well. They would share one fate.

The deportation of the Jews of Kielce took place over thirty-six hours. The ghetto was divided into three areas; every area was emptied of Jews over twelve hours.

Trains were standing on the tracks ready to swallow their victims. One hundred and fifty souls were put into every freight car. The cars were locked up. The heat and stifling atmosphere, the terrible crowding without a drop of water made these poor souls choke and many died on the way. The dead and the living intermingled.

During the liquidation of the ghetto there were several instances of Jews who did not want to leave the place where they had been born and their ancestors had been buried and chose to die there. Among them was Mrs. Wilner, the daughter of Cwi Zagajski, who didn't want to leave the ghetto under any circumstances and was shot where she stood. The secretary of the community, Baruch Sokolowski, turned to the Jews at the train station and said: “My brothers! We are being led to be slaughtered; know what you must do…” one of the Gestapo heard his words , shot him and killed him where he stood.

The rabbi of the Kielce community, Reb' Abele Rapoport Z”L, then turned to the members of his congregation with his final words and said: “From time to time I would reprove you for every fault I noticed among you; now I request your forgiveness if I injured your honor. I see that the entire congregation, all are holy; for God has chosen you to sanctify his name, as our ancestors of old sanctified his blessed name. Let us all confess.”

When the train reached its destination, and the poor things left the death cars, they were led to a large courtyard that was surrounded by barbed wire.

There in the courtyard the murderers began to sort the arrivals. They chose the strong and those with a profession: barbers, carpenters, metal workers, cobblers and tailors, from among them, since from them the oppressors could squeeze out the remnants of their strength with hard labor, and those they left in the camp thinking that the victim would not escape their vicious fangs. Whoever arrived in the Treblinka extermination camp did not leave it alive.

Those who remained alive for the time were used for various work: extracting gold teeth from the mouths of the victims of the gas chambers, sorting their clothing by type of weave, shearing the hair of the women, etc. Whoever wanted to lengthen their lives for a little bit was forced to perform such cruel actions with accuracy under a hail of beatings that fell upon them from every side by wild animals in human shape. Those who were marked for destruction were commanded to strip off their clothing in order to be bathed and then go to work.

[Page 243]

At first the poor things were gladdened when they heard they were to go work, but they immediately learned to their horror that they had been caught in a satanic plot.

The executioners began pushing their victims en masse into the narrow corridor into which dark chambers opened. Once the victims were shoved into the chambers, the doors were shut, the gasses were turned on, and after a few moments the bodies of the martyrs were removed via the chambers' openings on their other side.

In this satanic way the Jews of Kielce fell sanctifying God's name together with all the Jews of Poland and their ashes were scattered over the fields of Treblinka, Auschwitz and locations of similar killing. It must be mentioned here that a youth of Kielce, Zalcberg, was among those who revolted against the oppressor at Treblinka. As a result of this revolt several dozen Nazis were killed and what was more important – several Jews escaped and as living witnesses could let the world know about the horrors of the camp.

The city of Kielce was emptied nearly entirely of its Jews. About one thousand five hundred Jews remained there, among them a few hundred veterans of Kielce, and the rest – were Jews from other cities and even countries, who had been brought to Kielce by the Nazis as professionals in various areas who had been assigned a special area in the ghetto.

Every morning the latter would leave on foot for work and return in the evening; sometimes they had to walk for many kilometers to reach their work place. They had little to eat and their work was difficult, and therefore it is no wonder their numbers dwindled. If one of the forced laborers became too weak to go to work he was sent to Auschwitz and immediately to the gas chambers. Many therefore hid their weakness or illness and continued to work with their remaining strength until they fell down, never to rise again.

From time to time, other groups would arrive to supplement the lack in the number of workers in the camps.

Those who succeeded in keeping their place used all sorts of tricks to find sources of nourishment, at night they would go through the apartments of the Jews which had been emptied of their inhabitants and find their remnants of their kitchen utensils, and other things, and they would trade these utensils for food, and in this manner they would lengthen the days of their impoverished existence.

As was mentioned earlier, after the liquidation of the ghetto the member of the Jewish police and the members of the Jewish council, that was headed at that time by Messrs. Herman Lewi, Gotlib and Trager still remained. But they also became irrelevant in the eyes of the Nazis and were liquidated cruelly.

Those who remained in the ghetto were destined to be tormented by the horrible episode of the destruction of their children in front of their eyes.

Sara Karbel, one of the Shoah survivors who lives with us in Israel, describes the destruction of the last children of Kielce:

[Page 244]

On the 23rd of May, 1943, at day break, the Jewish police came and knocked on the window of my room calling: “Gather at the inspection yard!” We already knew the meaning of such a command.

In our city there remained about a thousand people who worked in the labor camps, among them forty five children and infants.

The mothers, who worked in the labor camps outside of the city, would leave their children under my care as a childcare worker. Among the infants was also my baby, Girza, a sweet girl with light-blue eyes and golden hair.

Frightened by the policemen's order I left my room in haste. I held my Girza under my coat. I took her from her cradle when she was asleep and I was terrified she would wake up crying. After me came my husband Irwin and my brother Mordechai. When we arrived the yard was full of Jews standing in line, everyone pale and anxious. Across from us, in rows, stood the gendarmes, the S.S. men and the Gestapo. There was silence in the yard.

Suddenly the command came like thunder from the heavens: “Hand over the children!” The entire world swirled within me; in shock I knew only that the children were in the hands of the S.S. men being dragged by them to a small neglected hut that stood on the side. All of my being concentrated on one thing: “my daughter is hidden under my coat, who will save us?” My strength left me. Six hours we stood erect. And meanwhile all of the children in the hut are screaming and crying. The bigger ones among them begging before the German gendarmes: “Let us come out!” showing the remnants of their hands and saying: “we are capable of work!” But those evil ones had sealed ears; they did not respond to their screams, closing the windows and the shutters, so that their voices wouldn't reach us. But we hear, if not with our ears, in the depths of our hearts. And my little girl is still with me. I turn here and there, wanting to hide from the looks of the evil dogs, perhaps I will be able to save my only one!…

And then came the bitterest moment in my life – a Ukrainian policeman noticed me and came over. He grabbed the girl forcefully from me and carried her by the collar of her coat across the entire yard. Everyone burst forth: “Girza, Girza!” There was no one in the entire camp who did not know my sweet little girl. I remained shocked. I no longer saw my husband and my brother. I saw only the golden hairs of my little girl disappearing from my eyes into the death hut.

The adult Jews who stood in order were divided into four groups and sent to labor camps: Blizszin, Skarzysk, Pjonki and Strachowica. The group I was in was sent to the factory for iron products in Ludwigszuta near Kielce.

And that night, the children were brought to the cemetery in Kielce where they were murdered without mercy.

Dear children! How you were cut down by a cruel hand!

At the last moment, they didn't see the eye of a loving mother; before the innocent eyes only the murderers could be seen. May God avenge their blood!”

Six children, who climbed upon the roof of the hut and hid there, were saved by the few Jews who still remained in the city. They took them, hid them from sight, and took care of them until the city was completely emptied of Jews. The fate of those six children is still not known.

List of the last children to die in Kielce

  Name Age     Name Age
1. Ajzenberg Lulek 5 24. Jezwicki Ester 13
2. Aleks Lea 11 25. Jezwicki Chana 9
3. Bugajer Fred 5 26. Jezwicki Szmuel 10
4. Bornsztajn Menachem 12 27. Kasrielewicz Riszja 8
5. Bornsztajn Chana 10 28. Lederman Saran'ke 4
6. Berkowicz Manos 7 29. Lender Mina 9
7. Goldblum Aharon 1 30. Laks Saran'ke 6
8. Goldblum Joszijahu 7 31. Minc Lili 7
9. Goldberg Zola 2 32. Mendelbaum Chawa 5
10. Gurewicz Zygmunt 3 33. Sapir Mercel 3
11. Grosberg Pola 10 34. Fajnmeser Ceszja 5
12. Grojbrad Sara'nke 5 35. Francek 14
13. Grynberg Zew 4 36. Proszowski Irena 7
14. Grynberg Josef 7 37. Fridman Icak 5
15. Hofman Anja 8 38. Cypros Bronek 7
16. Wajnberg Plejusz 2 39. Klinberg Dawid 5
17. Wald-Liprent Karol 1 40. Klinberg Chana 11
18. Zauberman Fajbusz 1 41. Karbel Gisela 1
19. Zylbersztajn Dora 12 42. Rozencwajg Gisela 5
20. Zylbersztajn, Miljusza 5 43. Rozencwajg Januszek 6
21. Chmielnicki Izrael 3 44. Rajter Zuszja 7
22. Chmielnicki Rozia 4 45. Recht Menachem 5
23. Charson Miatek 2      

On 25.11.45 several parents of the little martyrs, seven mothers and three fathers, gathered in the cemetery in Kielce. We had already been released from the Nazi nightmare. We set up a memorial stone on the joint grave of the children a grey stone, but in our hearts it is engraved as a stone of blood. We will never forget them, the flowers of our souls. The day of your death will remain a memorial day for us forever!

One of the Rechtsman family demonstrated touching sibling loyalty. Wishing to save his little brother, he put him into a sack among his work tools. And daily on his way to the labor camp and back he would carry him in the sack; and the child remained quietly inside without moving, all day. It occurred to no one what a treasure the laborer was carrying upon his shoulder. And thus the child was saved and the two of them were finally able to move to Israel. Such deeds are worthy of being engraved upon the memorial book of the nation.

The wicked Nazis used various tricks to discover the hiding places of the Jews; they would give a price to anyone who discovered such a hiding place.

[Page 246]

Once they published a notice that they were giving permits to leave for every Jew who wished to move to the land of Israel.

Several Jews who were hidden in cellars and whose lives were always in danger; as well as those who as possessors of Aryan passports were in constant fear of betrayal, all these trusted the words of their oppressors and came out of their hiding places – and were caught in the trap that the enemy set for them.

We will mention here only one name, the head of the “Judenrat”, Herman Lewi, who lived in Kielce also after the liquidation of the ghetto under a Polish Christian name – he too fell victim to this satanic plot of the Nazis. Thus the few Jews of Kielce continued their dismal existence, forced laborers at the factories and the labor camps, fluttering always between life and death until 1944, until Lublin was occupied by the Russians.

Of all of the labor camps in which the Jews of Kielce worked, the camp at Skarzysko was the worst and most difficult. Very few succeeded in leaving there when the hour of salvation came.

Here one of the survivors describes the conditions there and the tortures the laborers suffered at the hands of the manager von Hecht.

The day after we arrived there the managers came to the barracks and began to choose people for work. We immediately felt that we had arrived in a hell hole. The men were sent to various factories that were located there. I saw human skeletons: men and women, dressed in faded rags and on their faces – terrible despair.

The strongest men were sent to a factory that manufactured pikrin, that is the powder that is used to make mines.

On the first day I couldn't work. I felt a choking in my throat, I coughed, and my eyes streamed with tears.

The laborers were weakened to such an extent that they had to stop their work, every day they removed dead bodies from there. No help was extended to the sick, not even water to ease their thirst would the accursed wicked ones give them. Whoever continued at this work for three months would become damaged in their body and especially their lungs.

The work managers hurried the laborers to work without pause for eleven hours. Whoever stopped their work for a moment, to straighten their limbs, received a cruel beating. Every inch of ground in this camp was saturated with the blood of those tortured.

The daily food ration of the laborer was a quarter kilogram of bread and potato soup. No wonder the workers were frequently hungry.

Among those supervising the labor camp were also two from Kielce: one named Ajzenberg, who was a member of the underworld even when things were normal, and the second named Markowicz, he and his wife were the cooks in the camp. The were sent to Auschwitz also, finally, and died with their brethren in the gas chambers.

[Page 247]

The murderous Nazis chose the yard outside of the synagogue as the place for their acts of cruelty against their victims. The yard was surrounded by a barbed wire fence. The synagogue itself was desecrated by the hands of the unclean when they perpetrated their disgusting deeds in it. But the yard they reserved as a place of purgatory for the poor things who fell into their unclean hands.

When the rumor reached the ears of the Jews working in the camps about the Russian advance, hope stirred in their hearts that they would be saved in the near future. They were convinced that the liberation of Kielce by the Russian forces was a matter of a few days. They didn't know that the Russian advance would be halted by the Wisla River for six months. Many of the forced laborers could not contain their impatience and began leaving the labor camps; some of them escaped to the nearby forests, hoping they would succeed in organizing into partisan groups there and await the arrival of the Russians. Some of them tried to find shelter and places to hide in villages, in peasant homes. But both erred in their judgement. The Russians took a long time to come; these refugees were mostly felled either by a bullet of the Nazi enemy or the axe of the Polish peasant.

Finally the Soviet forces crossed the Wisla River and approached Kielce. The Nazis evacuated Kielce and the few Jews, the forced laborers they transferred to Auschwitz. And again, when the Red Army approached Krakow, all the prisoners in the death camp were transferred to the interior of Germany, to the concentration camps at Dachau, Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen and others. Many died on the way from hunger and suffocation.

Of all of the glorious Jewish community of Kielce a few dozen young men and women were all that was left. All of them broken and degraded in body and spirit.

Those that were survivors of the camps didn't want to return to their former habitations, whose earth was saturated with the blood of dear and precious souls.

But the world was cruel to them: at first they were held in camps; the gates of the land of Israel were locked in their faces. The intention of the great powers was to force them to return to their country of origin; and if not, if they didn't agree to return, they could remain in the camps until they were sick of it.

Some of them were tempted and returned to Kielce. Refugees also began returning from Russia, and also from the area, a few remnants of the death began to gather and find a place to dwell in Kielce; a small community that numbered a total of close to two hundred souls, began to organize. They chose a committee from among them that was entrusted with the various actions of a community that wishes to renew its existence. The kashrut committee and the aid committee began to do their jobs. There was a chance that in Kielce at least a small kernel of the grand community that had been destroyed would continue to exist.

However, the Poles looked meagerly at the Jews who were about to renew their lives. They were afraid lest they were thinking of demanding the return of the loot that was in their possession. There were some who feared the vengeance of the Jews for their participation in the murderous acts against them.

[Page 248]

In addition to these, the soldiers of General Anders arrived and began spreading hatred and venom against the returning Jews who supposedly wanted to reconquer Poland. The Polish oppressors stood in amazement:

Where were so many Jews coming from? – in the end, they rose up and spread a conspiracy that the Jews were murdering Christian children in their desire to be revenged against the Christians for the murders that had been perpetrated against them and their children.

And indeed, their wicked propaganda fell on fertile ground.

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