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[Page 321]

Kutno, My Hometown

by Mirel ERDBERG-SZATAN, Montreal

Translated from the Yiddish by Murray Citron

Hometown mine, and of R. Yehoshie'le Kutner,
Of Szalom Asz, and Y. Y. Trunk,
Of martyrs Herman Kirszbaum and Chawa his wife —
With a peacock's colors you were alive…

You taught me much learning, the wisdom of sages:
From Herzl to Marx, Tolstoy and the Rambam,
From quarrels of peoples, the wisdom of ages,
And bearing the yoke of my people and city.

Your song was a comfort to me when afar,
A companion, a friend, when alone and abroad,
Over continents, oceans, in moments of time —
It provisioned me always for the road…

Your youth, our hope, our happiness promised
Held back with its confidence sorrow and need,
For a bright morning they planted the seed —
Now all is frozen and wasted in death…

No Jewish children, no Yiddish song,
No Berel the porter, no Yankel the smith,
No Jewish shops, Żelichowski's mill gone,
At sunset no small groups of Jews by the shul…

No sacred writings, not one Yiddish book,
No Jews of Shabbes, no Jews of the week,
No candles, no hymns, no Kiddush, no wine —
Over all hovers the pity of loss.

I stand a mourner, my head bent down,
For you my home, for Kutno, my town.
For Warsaw, Włocławek, Łęczyca, Gąbin —
For hundreds of shtetlech that suffered the same…

For me your sky will always be gray,
Your sun without light, your grass without dew,
Cut off at the root, can there come a day
When my town will be once again new?

Hometown Kutno, shtetl of Poland,
With Jewish sadness and light from Baal-Shem —
On my shoulders I carry your grief and your horrors
And light and destruction for Kiddush HaShem…


Shtetele mine, with light from the dawning,
Full once of Jews, shtetl mine,
Now your fate is a call for mourning —
Shtetele mine, you are Judenrein…

For a moment on a grey afternoon,
I heard your painful sorrowful tune.
And I wept inside myself, shtetele mine —
Kutno, my home, you are Judenrein…

Streets all lonesome, dust and debris,
Abandoned houses, no bird on a tree.
The orphaned schoolyard stares at the fence —
No Jewish children with pencils and pens.

My shtetele, my home, with light from the dawn,
You are rootless forever and Judenrein.
Your joys are not to be found, they are gone…
May your name be forever a blessing, a sign.

[Page 326]

Kutno in E. Ringelblum's “News from Warsaw Ghetto”

Translated from the Yiddish by Shulamit Auvé-Szlajfer

In the Kutner ghetto of Konstancja, a Memorial Day was held for Herzl and Jabotinsky, with the agreement of the authorities.

(October 2-10, 1940. p. 52).

The ghetto in Kutno has already been opened… (15.6.40).

(October 23-24, 1940. p. 66).

In Kutno, the ghetto is an open ghetto. Guards were forbidden (?) and they (obviously) let the crowd out.

(December 7-10, 1940. p. 77).

… A woman tells me that last year: “On the 12th of December, I experienced the following incident: I took the train from Łódź to Warsaw, the railway passed through Kutno, and I was seated at the Kalisz station.


Jewish children in the ghetto


No Jew was allowed to travel further from that. At that time, Jews wore signs on their clothes on front and back, and were allowed to walk in the street from 8am to 5pm. That's why we had to run… We had to go down… We arrived in Kutno around 1am… For Warsaw, we had to wait until 10pm. Everyone entered the waiting room, which was very full because it was holiday time[1]. There were not many Jews. A little time later, young “Greeks”[2] appeared and declared that (because of) the Jews who were in the room, the atmosphere was humid, they should go out so that the air would be breathable. The Jews had to go out on the side that leads to the city. The crowd sat on the luggage and later, the same 'Greeks' came out and began beating the men terribly. The battle went so far that the Jews left their luggage and fled. Then, they started beating the women terribly. They were struck in the face. Not a single woman is completely out, all of them have shed blood. Among the 'Greeks' were two who were quite agitated and began to ask why they were beating. The answer came: because Jews were to blame for the critical situation in which Polish Germans found themselves. The two replied that it was not the fault of the Jews, but of the policy of the government. The assailants went out, and with them the two defenders. The two came out constantly, especially one of them became interested in us. They brought water for us to wash away the blood and expressed their sympathy. He explained that he was going to intervene to allow us into the waiting room. They left, but did not return. This means that they had not succeeded. Around 3am, a car arrived with officers, the same 'Greeks' who had beaten us came out and ordered us to take out the officers' belongings. I got to drag a crate. After a few steps, the officer realized that I, wounded earlier, was dragging such a heavy crate, and mentioned that it was too heavy for me and took himself. One of the two “Greeks” who defended us told us: Wait, the thugs will readily go away and you will be able to enter (he meant the “Greeks” who had beaten us). After a while, they explained us that they would see to it that we did not have to wait for the train until 10pm. Fortunately, a special additional train appeared. At 6, as we were told at the station, the train was allowed on a special intervention by soldiers and passed safely…”[3]

(24.12. She 86--87)

I was told that in the Kutner ghetto, the captain had all Jews stripped naked and collected one and a half million marks from all of them, including a quarter of a million from one Jew.

(Beginning of June 1941. p. 278 — from the second book “Writings of the Ghetto”, Warsaw, 1961).


Translator's footnotes
  1. Christmas time because Chanukah was already over, on December 19, 1939 Return
  2. Meaning, Poles of German origins. Return
  3. All the missing lines were burnt, in the original. Return

[Page 327]

Kutno and Surroundings
During the Years of Occupation

In books and newspapers

Translated from the Yiddish by Shulamit Auvé-Szlajfer

November 24, 1939

Border posts are already installed all along the border between the area included in the Reich and the General Government (about the places where one could face a border post, not yet public, according to the statements of the “Warsaw Journal,” we find: Kutno, Stryków, Koluszki, Klucze near Olkusz). Silver or gold, new (unused) goods of any kind, or food should not be taken out of the Reich.

February 22, 1940

At the moment, colonization is not going too well. An example is given in the report published today in the Łódź newspaper about the Łęczyca district. The Germans of the Baltic regions appear here as a lonely drop in the Polish ocean. Łęczyca is widely known as a town well supplied with food. People even ask the General Government for authorizations to settle in the city. But only Poles want to come and Łęczyca needed German townspeople. Increasing the city's population is the most important task. In the whole locality there were neither German craftsmen nor German merchants. So far only two Baltic Germans have come: the district veterinarian and an engineer-architect… It is interesting to note in the report that there are hardly any local Germans who have “returned to the Reich”: in the city of Łęczyca they are 180, compared to 3000 Jews and 11000 inhabitants in general.

February 23, 1940

For the moment, the Baltic Germans are the main group that has settled in the Polish territories included in the Reich.

The newspaper constantly insists on the small number of Germans in the region: for example, speaking on the occasion of the appointment of a German mayor in Kutno, it recalls that the city has 28,000 inhabitants and less than 400 Germans.

In Łęczyca, “a fire” broke out in the school, due to the filthy state it was in, of course. According to the newspaper, the firefighters only made sure that the fire did not spread to the neighboring houses.

March 4, 1940

Germanization activity does not mark a pause and, on the contrary, the results are still far from making an impression. According to a report on Kutno in the “Łódź Zeitung,” “the number of Germans is increasing”; but at the moment, according to the same report, the population is 20,000 Poles, 7,700 Jews and 400 Germans.

March 29, 1940

A list of names has been published in the district of Vartegau, drawn up by the commissioner. There are 41 districts there, 27 of which are from the former province of Poznań (in its entirety except Bydgoszcz and the districts of Bydgoszcz and Wyrzysk), 10 from the province of Łódź (partly still in Polish times included in the Province of Poznań) and 4 of that of Warsaw: Gostynin, Kutno, Włocławek and Nieszawa. Not only the names of the districts of Poznań which dated from before the First World War were Germanized, but also those of others, such as Leslau (Włocławek), Nessau (Nieszawa), Warthbrücken (Koło), Lentschütz (Łęczyca).

May 19, 1940

… Jewish ghettos continue to be organized — orders to this effect have already been issued in Łęczyca.

June 13, 1940

From the recently established Łęczyca ghetto, desperate reports come about the sudden and determined shrinkage of this area and, in connection with it, the brutal expulsion of part of the Jewish population. This is of course linked to the settlement of families evacuated from Germany.

July 17, 1940

According to rumors, all the Jews of Kutno were expelled from the city and installed somewhere outside the city, in the open air; the Warsaw “Joint” asked for permission to come and help them, but their request was rejected…

July 21, 1940

I have heard rumors about what is going on in Kutno… all the businesses in Kutno are already German. The Jews were moved a few kilometers outside the city: they were installed in a sort of factory building and, as there was little space, a large part of it lays under the open sky.

August 22, 1940

About the territories included in the perimeter of the Reich, the newspaper reports a march of the German youth “with the martyrs of the German country road, between Inowroclaw and Kutno” (“Freedom march”) — again to support hatred of 'Polacks'.

September 2, 1940

About the regions included in the Reich, the newspapers reproduce in full the speeches of Goebbels in Katowice and of Greiser[1] in Kutno, the meeting point of the “Freedom March&3148; which must be perceived as an educational role by seeding and inciting hate.

September 22, 1940

In the news from the regions included in the Reich, the Jewish question can be found once in the “Łódź newspaper report.

The author of the report visits the already famous ghetto in a disused sugar factory (cukrownia) outside the city, accompanied by a police officer, who shows him how Jews behave. They, the Germans, would have already tidied up here, but the Jews are making a bigger and bigger trash can!

(Ludwig Landau, Chronicle of the War and Occupation Years, September 1939, November 1940).

The months of March and April 1942 were rich in a whole series of “transfer actions”… During that period, &l147;actions” were carried out in… Kutno. “The action”

[Page 328]

lasted from late March to late April. About 8,400 Jews were “transferred” to Chelmno…

(A. Szedlecki, on the fourth anniversary of the liquidation of the ghetto in Kutno, “The New Life” 1946, No. 14).

In August 1942, a series of “transfers” and “actions” (and others) were carried out in Żychlin…

The “transferred” were taken to Chelmno, the children were killed on the spot. About 200 people were left to sort valuables. The group was shot down in March 1943…

(Documents and Materials, Volume II, “Actions” and “Relocations”, edited by Dr. Y. Kermisz, pp. 15 and 30. Warsaw — Łódź — Krakow, 1946).

Speaking of camps, we must also pay particular attention to their diversity with regard to the size of their surface. Besides a camp, which covered several hundred hectares of land (Auschwitz), with several hundred barracks, we have camps, which were limited to a few buildings, up to the area of a factory (e.g., the “Konstancja Jewish Camp”) — the buildings of an old sugar factory near Kutno, where about 8000 people were parked, some of whom, due to lack of space, “lived” in the open.

(Documents and materials, Volume I — “Camps”, edited by Mgr. N. Blumenthal, p. 7, Łódź 1946).


Translator's footnote
  1. Arthur Karl Greiser (22 January 1897 - 21 July 1946), hanged in Poland for crime against humanity. Return


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