Kielce did not have those deep traditions of the old Jewish cities like Lublin or Krakow. She was the youngest Jewish community in Poland. Until the Polish rebellion in the year 1863, there was not a single Jew in Kielce. After the removal of the prohibition for Jews to live there, a Jewish life was established in the course of a short time which, from that time on, increased continuously until the great catastrophe of 1939.
Because of her youth, Kielce did not have famous Yeshivas and Talmud Torahs. Here, Jewish life developed more under the influence of trends toward Polish culture. Also later, the Jewish secular culture did not hold back her great ambitions here. However, Kielce was a city with a Jewish heart, the same Jews as in Warsaw and other cities, the same readiness to sacrifice, the same tie to Jewish qualities and Jewish ways. Just the opposite, because of her upstart status, the wallets of Kielce Jews were more open than in other cities. As if she wanted with charity and generosity to atone for her lack of a Torah tradition.
Among the Kielce Jewish citizens, the largest influence was Zionism. But, other Jewish political parties also had an honest share here. And, just as in the other cities, the Kielce Jews believed that they were building an eternal place, and in that eternal place would play out all Jewish salvations. They would, they believed, through their arduous work, build a Jewish state in the land of Israel, to shape the socialist revolution in Kielce. They would free themselves and others. And, in Kielce itself, they would have deeper roots than until now.
Now I have come to Kielce and found all that Jews have created. But of they themselves, of the Jews, I found only a few. Literally, only a few Jews. And not in their houses did I find them, but only accidentally, the way that one meets people in a bus depot.
Here, it is the opposite of other cities. There is vast movement. The streets are filled with people. For those who did not know the city before the war, it will look normal. He will not recognize that vivaciousness and creativity has been taken away from the population.
It was beginning in 1940 when in Kielce were found 28,000 Jews. When after the take over of Poland by the Germans, the Jewish wandering began. Better said, the Jewish running. Several thousands Jews fled Kielce. They were running to the Soviet side toward Lemberg. Later, many of them came back in order to die in their own bed. Jews also came from nearby towns. Two thousand Jews came from Lodz and from the Lodz province. On the eve of Passover 1941, 28,000 Jews were locked in the ghetto. Compared with other cities, the Kielce ghetto was large enough. The local Polish leaders asked the Germans to designate a large ghetto since overcrowding causes the outbreak of epidemics from which everyone suffers, including the Polish population. The Germans accommodated the request of the Polish city fathers. However, they later realized that what the Polish leaders want is against the politics of the Germans. They, the Germans, need epidemics and the largest possible gas chambers. They cut Warsaw street off from the ghetto and the crowding made epidemics a natural annihilation before they had activated the A produktive [translator's note: not known]. An epidemic of typhus breaks out which takes 4000 victims.
In the ghetto, however, a much worse epidemic breaks out, degeneracy. An assimilated Jew, Herman Levi informs on the president of the Jewish Council, Dr. Moshe Pelz, who did all things possible to lighten the lives of the Jews in the ghetto, that he is working against the German power. Dr. Pelz is sent to Oswiecim (Auschwitz) where he dies in the gas chamber and he, Herman Levy, takes over the leadership of the Jewish Council like a plain Gestapo agent. He also, after his accomplishments, dies in November 1942 in the Oswiecim gas chambers. The youth in the ghetto prepare an underground movement. However, the same dark process repeats itself as in all other Polish cities. Against the Jews are not only the Germans. The Jews are completely alone. The Polish organizations have help from abroad. They have weapons, but they do not want any contact with the Jews. The ghetto remains with empty hands and without any hope of someone's help from the external world. Except for those lying in wait for Jewish boys, the internal enemies, the Jewish police. The ghetto is too crowded to allow someone to do something in a conspiracy.
The 20th August 1942 begins the end of all hopes. The German Zondercommando with the Ukrainian, Lithuanian, and Polish helpers occupy the ghetto and, within several days, they liquidate the Kielce community. The norm is six thousand Jews a day. The command is to kill more Jews on the spot. In the time of the resettlement, the streets, the houses, and the bunkers are flooded with Jewish blood. Thousands of dead Jews are scattered in the streets. A wild slaughter goes on for a whole week. Every second day, 6000 Jews are brought out - on the 20th, the 22nd and the 24th of August. At the end, there remain in the ghetto not more than 2,100 Jews. Among them, 45 children from the police, the doctors, and the Jewish Council.
When 600 Jews fall to the last transport, they become the complement of left behind workers and 1500 Jews are confined in the Kielce work camp [translator's note: There was a Hasag slave labor camp in Kielce]. With their hands, the German murderers gather together the plunder. Here, the Jews will live until their work ends. Left are only the young, strong ones. They now begin to prepare themselves intensively for a revolt. The organizers are David Bachwiener, Gershon Leftkowich and the younger Chmielevski. They manufacture weapons by themselves . David Bachwiener makes grenades by himself. But, a provocateur places himself in the movement, that is Yahan Spiegel, a Vienna Jew, the chief of the Jewish police in the camp. He wins the trust of the organizers and they confide to him their plans. Yahan Spiegel believes that, by giving away the organization, he will win life for himself and his family. He gives the organization into the hands of the Gestapo and all fall the death of holy martyrs. Later when the Germans liquidate the work camp and they send the provocateur to Oswiecim, he dies there at the hands of two religious Jewish boys, the brothers Shlomo and Yehuda Perl from Kielce.
The Jewish community of Kielce no longer exists. After the war, she conducted herself for life. A few Kielce Jews saved themselves in Russia. The remainder came out from the German camps. 400 Kielce Jews came home and wanted to start anew as was done 80 years ago. But, the Polish population had decided not to allow any more Jews in Kielce. The triumph of the German murder of the Jews was also their triumph and they would not allow it to be pulled from their hands. And they made a pogrom against Jews in 1946 upon a pattern of a resettlement from the German-Ukrainian Zondercommando.
The current representative of the Jews in Kielce, Isadore Cohen leads me to the house where most of the victims fell. He tells me that the tactics of the Poles were well thought out. Precisely as the pogrom was planned out before hand. With appropriate propaganda in the streets. And the pogrom was carried out through the unified power of all of the Polish strata. They killed the Jews leisurely in cold blood while they were sure that no one would interfere with their work. Hoodlums from their security forces also participated in the pogrom.
The central power liquidated the pogrom. About ten pogrom perpetrators were shot. And even several officers of the security forces were punished for their slow interventions at the time of the pogrom. However, the father of the pogrom, Bishop Hlond remained in Kielce. And Jews ran away over the borders. They have had, call it, enough, of Kielce and this land as all that was dearest is crushed and destroyed.
In Kielce are left about 20 Jews, Jewish boys and girls, whom in the streets you will not recognize as being Jewish. Where do these Jews live? No one knows. When I came to Kielce, a policeman on the street informed me that, if I was looking for Jews, they must live near the security forces, because they are afraid to live just anywhere in the city. And indeed, in a house near the police station, I found three apartments where Jews lived. In the small rooms is the bed with the table and oven together. There, in the evening, I had a meeting with the whole Jewish population of Kielce. I was on no account able to determine what holds this score of Jews here. From one woman, I heard that she is there temporarily.
She is battling a Polish woman about her sister's child whom the Polish woman will not return. Several boys occupy themselves with selling Jewish houses. One young man declared to me that, in any case, the Jews have lost the war, so what difference does it make how one's few years end. Sitting here are about a score of Jews as in a station from which one can come and go away. But the passengers are, in any case, homeless, to where should they go?
Characteristic of the Kielce Poles is this. After the Germans were driven away, they took upon themselves to destroy what the Germans had not yet destroyed. The Germans had polluted the Kielce cemetery. They had made it into an execution place. They had polluted the fence with Jewish gravestones. After the driving away of the Germans, Polish hooligans took to the fence and, in the course of several days, completely wrecked it. Now the Jews have built a new fence and erected at the cemetery a memorial for the murdered Jews during the German occupation and during the pogrom.
The large beautiful synagogue was converted by the Germans to a warehouse in which was found the bedding of the Jews after the resettlement. The entire huge building was filled with Jewish pillows and comforters. After the liberation, the synagogue was converted by the Poles to a toilet for peasants who come to the large synagogue plaza with their wagons on market day. When I, with the mentioned Isadore Cohen, went together to look at the synagogue, we found there a group of Polish schoolchildren who had taught themselves to aim with stones in the remaining panes of glass in the windows. That was the successor generation to the hoodlums who dug up tens of graves in the cemetery and robbed the gold teeth of the dead. They are the offspring of those who took hundreds of gravestones from the cemetery and dragged them away to their homes for building purposes.
The second synagogue in Kielce Zagiski's synagogue was converted to an iron warehouse.
All that happened in Kielce after the liberation was a liquidation of every
trace of the Jews. The pogrom in Kielce was a continuation of the liquidation
of the remainder of the large Jewish community. A total of 500 Jews remained
in Kielce and the murderers destroyed also the remnant of the escapees and with
that ended the history of Jewish existence in that city.
After the bloody riots that occurred in Russia against the Jews during the months October November 1905 and the incitement against them which grew stronger at that time, it was decided, according to the suggestion of the genius rabbis Rabbi Cwi Hersz Rabinowicz of Kowna, Rabbi Eliezer Gordon of Telz; Rabbi Mosze Danoszewski from Slobodka and Rabbi Israel Mejer HaKohen from Radin ZL to call for a public fast on the even of the new month of Elul 5666 in the entire country of Russia. The fast was then declared all over the world.
We hereby publicize herewith the exhortation letter that was published at the time by the rabbi of Kielce, the genius Rabbi Mosze Nachum Jerusalimski ZL, in its original form:
BH Tuesday, portion of Matot-Mas'ei, 5666. Kielce
With regard to the holy, elevated most high idea that came to the minds of the acclaimed genius rabbis of Lita, may they merit long and excellent days, having a general mourning fast on the eve of the new moon of Elul which is approaching for the good, here this thing is truly a worthy and necessary matter, good and of benefit and all agreement by a body in this matter is redundant, except in that whoever is able to help to transform this thing from the potential to a reality, is obligated with a holy and moral obligation to attempt with all the efforts of his strengths and as far as he can reach in order to bring to action, and in this I am together with you in one mind to endorse this with all the warmth of my Israelite body and soul, for who is the man whose eyes do not shed a sea of tears and his heart not be broken into shards over the terrible tragedy which has befallen the house of Israel during the preceding days, however, the gates of tears shall not be locked. We don't have in our strengths but a mouth, and if we have also sinned to the Lord our god and our transgressions have piled high, we will please repent with willing heart and soul for He is very forgiving.
My brothers children of Israel, brothers in trouble! Let us gather together with the wind of all the ends of the earth, the places where we have been scattered, let us unite in our prayers and our fasting for one day on the even of the new moon of Elul which approaches for the good. All of the Israelite people will pray on this day and will fast and will repent before the dweller of the heavens from the depths of the heart and we will then be in surety that the prayers of the entire holy congregation of Israel will not be returned unanswered and may we be speedily redeemed materially and in spirit, and a redeemer will come to Zion Amen.
This letter was published in a general notice of the great ones of Israel and in all of the synagogues and houses of worship the general fast was kept strictly, and even more so by all of the inhabitants of Kielce.
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