by Zvi LASMAN, Givatayim
One morning, as I was walking out into the street, I came across people running, screaming, and making noise. Wounded soldiers were carried off the trains, which were bombed by the Germans, and mobilized soldiers were also deployed. The panic was great. The city was bombed by Hitlerite planes and the people were scattered on all sides.
It is said that the Germans approached through Piątek, where major battles had taken place. They should have already taken over the city.
I do not remember exactly the day when the Hitlerites marched into Kutno, but those hours are well remembered by me.
As soon as the Germans entered the city, they began to implement their order. A call was issued for all men, Jews and Christians, to gather in the new market. The first thing they demanded was that the people hand over their weapons to the new government. Second, they told us that a curfew was being introduced in the city from five o'clock in the afternoon until six in the morning.
Early in the morning, the Germans captured Jewish men at work occupying public places. I was among the captured men.
Many people tried to hide, one in a basement, another in an attic, but to no avail. Everyone was caught.
I tried to hide under a blanket in the basement, but I was also caught and taken to the group of detained men.
The whole crowd of people was driven by the Germans to the church, which was already overflowing with Jews and Christians. The suffering of the detainees was indescribable. I did not get any food, no drink, the hunger was terrible. We had to relieve ourselves inside the church, side by side…
When I received a package of food from my family, I was attacked from all sides, so that nothing was left for me.
After three painful days of being locked up in a church, people began to be released. They were divided into groups: those on the left were packed on trucks, and those on the right were sent off for work. The old people were left at home.
My fate was to be among those who, like beasts, were carried on lorries, under a strict guard, to Łęczyca. There we were locked in a school, surrounded by barbed wire. In the courtyard of the synagogue were already gathered old Jews with beards and wigs, whom he had specially assigned the dirtiest works and at the same time they were beaten.
All Jews wore order numbers on their chests and shoulders. My number was 640. Everyone had to stand by the numbers, all day long from early evening.
In the morning, we first got a little soup, mixed with horsebran. For dinner, we had three potatoes with salted herring, without water. After the herring, thirst was great, but only on the second day, for 1,400 men, just one barrel of water was brought in. As there was nothing to drink, they found a chamber pot, washed it and immersed it in water for drinking. This went on for several days.
One morning a German officer came in and asked who wanted to go out for work. Me, Opoczinski and four other Christians volunteered for the job.
Instead of horses, we were put in a truck and taken out to the field to dig up potatoes, load them on the cart, and take them to the camp. We were not given any food.
On the last day, Polish prisoners of war were taken and we were sent back to Kutno on foot, under the escort of volksdeutschen. When we entered the city, it was
already dark, and the German guards, not knowing who we were, opened fire on us.
With raised hands, we were ushered into Holcman's palace, where the German staff was located. When we were introduced to staff, each of us was asked his name and was beaten with rubber sticks. Of course, I was not spared the blow either.
In the same house, among the crowd of Jews, I noticed the old Aurbach of the new market. In the presence of his son, he was tortured in a sadistic manner, tearing off his beard and sideburns. Blood was flowing from him.
It is noteworthy that the old Jew endured the torture, not even groaning.
At night we were taken to church with our hands raised. In the morning we were taken to the 37th Regiment's barrack, which was transformed into a hospital.
The first job we got was to burn the regiment's documents. Then we were forced to clean out the toilets with our bare hands.
I was assigned as a nurse.
One time, as I was walking among the beggars, asking which of the sick people wanted something, I suddenly heard someone calling me by name. As I turned to the side of the bathtub, the voice came to me and to my amazement, I saw a blindfolded man among the sick.
It was Yechiel Meir Biglajzen. He told me that while running home, he was hit in the eye by a shrapnel and soon became blind. His suffering was indescribable. He died together with all the saints.
Finally, after fifteen horrible days in the hospital, I received permission to go home.
The joy of my family, when I crossed the threshold of my home, is hard to imagine. Everyone, my family and our neighbors, watched as I endured all the troubles and survived.
It is not for nothing that it is said that a man is stronger than iron…
by Natan KLAR, Tel Aviv
Today an order was issued that the Jews could apply to the magistrate for unpaid work, and I went there too. On the way, I was stopped by several Gestapo officers, armed from head to toe.
I explained to the Germans that I had to report to the magistrate for the job. They said that they take me also to work and that they will issue a confirmation on this. On the way, the Gestapo detained more Jews, among those arrested:
Podemski, Sender-Leib, Wopcze Kozak. Mosze Mordechai Bibergal, Yechiel-Meir Frankel's brother-in-law, who lived with Joel Steinfeld's neighbors, Bajle, the wigmaker's grandson, Hirszberg, who was a 14-year-old boy,
and other Jews, whose name I no longer remember. Together we were with about twenty men.
We were taken to a German van. When we got there, the real hell began for us.
Up to ten armed Hitlerites were already on the scene, already waiting for us.
The eldest of them gave us a whole sermon, that we Jews are guilty of everything, we killed the German officers who were buried in the cemetery Torture could not be avoided.
The Jews with beards endured terrible suffering. The elder Gestapo man walked among us with a knife and cut off the beard, together with the flesh Then they demanded that they eat the beard, under threat of a revolver.
After that, an order came to undress half-naked, and we were given murderous blows until we bled. Anyone who did not show up quickly was stripped of his clothes.
The fourteen-year-old boy Hirszberg was ordered to remove his coat by the bandits. He had to pick up large stones, lay them on the coat, tie the corners together and lift them up on his shoulders. When the garment tore to pieces due to the heavy load and he did not manage to lift the stones, he was fatally beaten with an iron rod, until he fell and lost consciousness.
Then the elder of the Hitlerite barbarians ordered the boy to be thrown into the pit, from which the German officers had been exhumed.
Some Jews risked their lives, dragged the boy out of the pit, revived him until he regained consciousness.
Our task was to excavate the German officers who fell during the great battles behind Kutno in September 1939.
I have just told how we were tortured in the presence of civilian Germans - residents of our city, headed by Keiler Wagner who is familiar to every inhabitant of our city; he lived on the highway, not far from hospital.
The elder of the Gestapo warned us that we Jews wanted this. War, we have. Guilty in everything and everyone. Therefore, he gives us half an hour, if we refuse a confession and then we will be shot. He ended his threats in this way:
You dirty Jews need to take the place of our German comrades in the graves, understand!One of ours, Podemski, suddenly responded:
Not allFor his Not all, the Jew got a terrible blow. Then, Keiler Wagner came out and declared that all Jews understood well what was being said to them in German. Besides, he translated it to us into Polish.
We, the detained Jews, worked to exhume the shot German officers until six in the evening. It was curfew time, when people were not allowed to show up on the street.
At that moment, a German officer, an elderly, big man, came riding a horse and asked why we were so beaten to blood.
The elder Gestapo officer replied that the Jews, the pigs, did not want to work.
The incoming officer said:
I do not believe that the Jews, under the guard of your arms, should refuse to work, this is not possibleFinally, he asked, how long have the Jews been here to work?
After an hour, the Gestapo man responded.The officer issued an injunction:
After completing the work, they will immediately go home.And he departed.
It did not take more than five minutes and the senior officer returned and ordered us to form a column of two. Then he took us alone, each to his own home, ordering us to present ourselves tomorrow for work.
None of us showed up for work anymore
by Arieh WEISBROT, Haifa
When I was a child, I studied in a cheder, in my small town of Kutno, which was behind the bathhouse next to the poultry slaughterhouse. Many were my teachers: Moshe-Mordechai zl, Yehuda Noah Zandberg zl, Yechiel Wengrover and others. I especially remember Mr. Yehuda Zandberg, who managed to vividly and plastically illustrate the stories of the Bible, until life stood before us, as if we ourselves were partners in the events of the narrators. I lived the exodus of Israel from Egypt as if I myself were coming out of a house of slavery, crossing the Red Sea and migrating to the land of destination.
But I understood the exodus from Egypt as daydreaming or dream and I could not imagine that only a few years would pass and hold the forerunners of another exodus not to the land of freedom and redemption, but to exodus deportation and expulsion from home, where my parents and I lived .to the land of annihilation, torture and destruction.
When the Nazi authorities in Kutno issued an order that the Jews had to leave their homes and concentrate on the ghetto they had set up in the sugar factory on the way to Krośniewice, the whole city became one big madhouse. Despair, loss of advice, madness and hopelessness gripped everything. People parents of children who only yesterday were omnipotent in the eyes of their children ran through the streets without knowing what to do, how to handle the new reality. Everyone wanted to get a cart to transport the few movables to the new deportation site, everyone wanted to be the first in the ghetto, assigned to the Jews of Kutno. Arriving at the place we caught a large warehouse, which had no partitions and no windows and doors. The children were amused by the new situation. They ran around all the rooms, climbed on the roofs and went down to the basements. But the parents understood the situation very well, though they too could not imagine the horrors that awaited them in this place. From the very first moment the problems arose: where to cook? How will they get water? Food? And the main thing where will all the Jews who were deported settle into the ruins of this factory, which is already, in the first hour full and crowded with Jews.
Indeed, the situation became more and more unbearable day by day. People lay in every corner of every building and in the open air. Wherever they went they took with them their meager possessions, which were packed in sacks or bundles. They also believed that one day they would return to their homes and that they should keep some of the property the fruit of a working life.
At first the entrance and exit to and from the ghetto was free, we could still trade with the Christians, we went out to work who to the train station, to a cigarette factory, to clean the city or any other job that came up. In the evening we returned to our place of residence. Krok and Weisbrot cafes, a bakery, shops, a hospital, a bathhouse, a water-pump, a toilet, and a general restaurant for the neediest were also established in the ghetto. But needy, we were all and so we stood in line from morning until noon, in order to get some thin soup, which reminded me of Mother's laundry water. But seeing also the manager or the principal Klaper in line for a colorful soup, with a kettle made of crystal in their hands and waiting for their dish, we completely forgot about the taste and color of this soup.
However, these seemingly comfortable conditions did not last long. With the advent of winter, life in the ghetto became a hell multiplied by seven. Indescribable
troubles, suffering and anguish began to haunt us, one after another. First the ghetto is closed there is no going out and no coming in.
There was a growing hunger in the ghetto. People fell in the street from exhaustion, because not even a slice of dry bread came to their mouths for many days. The queue for the public kitchen grew day by day and he could not answer and provide a soup plate to anyone who demanded it. And to the hunger for bread were added the many diseases due to the rains and snows, for many slept in the open air during the summer months, but with the coming of winter the weather destroyed them. People had pneumonia and typhus. Many died, and only before them did the gates of the ghetto open. To the rest of its inhabitants it remains closed by lock and key. Trade with the Christians also ceased, both because the gates of the ghetto were locked and because the Christians no longer had anything to trade.
It is easy to imagine that against this background quarrels, conflicts and fights arose. Shouts, cries and blows were not uncommon in these conditions.
It should be noted, however, that not everyone has been severely harmed in this way. There were also among the ghetto residents, who lived in slightly better conditions. Krok and Weisbrot's cafes were still open and people visited them and ate there to satiety and drank various drinks and thought that evil would not get them.
My father, who worked in the village of Sójki, as a shoemaker, would send me some food supplies by the milkman who provided milk to Stuczynski, but as the situation worsened and the milkman stopped visiting the ghetto. Mom was at a loss, she had nothing to feed us. My sister Rywka became ill with typhus and my brother Kalman who was seven years old asked my mother for a slice of bread and she could only give us the tears that kept flowing from her eyes. But her tears also dried up, only her sighs increased, but they did not shake the sky. Is there greater sorrow than the sorrow of a mother when she sees her children asking for bread and is helpless!?
I, the eldest son, decided to go out to Dad to the village and see what had happened to him. My mother, brother and sister zl accompanied me to the western fence where the ghetto sewer went through and I went out to the other side. From the outside, armed Germans guarded the weapons and would shoot without warning anyone who tried to escape from the ghetto. Indeed, as I was only a few meters away from the ghetto fence, the Germans began firing at me constantly. I still managed to get to the main road. Here, they started chasing the little squatters demanding money from me and throwing stones at me. I still managed to avoid them and reached the road that leads to the Jewish cemetery. Here I rested a little and made my way towards the village of Sójki. The Germans who ran everywhere, they walked the streets and roads and no one stood in their way. When I came across one of them, I pretended not to see him. Full of terror and fear I finally reached Dad. Seeing me he burst into tears of joy, for I stand before him alive and whole. He knew very well what a dangerous road I had to go through. I told him all the stories about us, the mother and his children, about our sufferings and troubles. But Dad's portion was no better than ours. He, too, lived all the time for fear of the Germans. They would often visit the village and did not know what his fate would be in an hour. He spent his nights in the stable and there I also slept with him at night. The next day, my father told me not to return to the ghetto.
Thus, the decision was made and I did not return, to my good and dear and faithful mother, to my sister Rywka and my brother Kalman, and to the rest of the family and friends I grew up with.
I decided to go to the village of Kłodawa, for my family. On my way, I was forced to go through Kutno. The city was full of Germans, here was a German riding a bicycle and a Jew ran in front of him and I did not understand the meaning of this and I again pretended I did not see them. I arrived at our synagogue. Christian children were playing around, among them I knew the sons of the German Hoffman. Unfortunately, they also knew me and started chasing me with knives. Suddenly, I saw Christian boys who had recently been our neighbors before the ghetto was established. They saved me from the murderous Benny Hoffman, to whom my former neighbors had promised many other Jewish boys in my place. This way, I escaped the hands of the little killers.
I was free to continue on my way. I passed through the Jewish streets, which were so familiar to me, where I grew up, rejoiced and cried. Now death-silence all around. Everything was bleeding, everything was frozen and dying. As if ghosts had taken over our streets and neighborhoods. Where has the rich life, full of action, initiative and vigor gone?! Where did the Jews disappear for their trade, their craft and their bargaining and addiction? The angel of death in the form of the German-Nazi celebrated his full victory, which even the most horrible antisemite had never dreamed of. The houses, the shops, the workshops everything is destroyed, destroyed and their Jewish owners are no more a cemetery, death and destruction all around. I could no longer bear the sight around me. I escaped from here as if haunted by the invisible angel of death. I went out, as mentioned, towards the village of Kłodawa, for my family.
Near Stanyuwka St., which bordered the ghetto, Jews were standing by the fence, they looked at me but did not speak, so as not to draw the Germans' attention to me. Here my conscience began to torment me again, for I had left my dearest mother, sister and brother and fled and left them in their suffering and troubles. I can never forgive myself for this act!
When I arrived in the village of Kłodawa it was Saturday night. Here in the village of life, things were still going well, the Jews went to the synagogue wearing Shabbat clothes. At home, Shabbat candles were lit on the tables and Jewish families ate their Shabbat meal, as if the world of yesterday still existed. They did not know the exploits of the Germans and did not even imagine the magnitude of the atrocities they were also preparing for the Jews of the village of Kłodawa. But I wept bitterly and told them about the horrible reality, about the murders, the hunger and the fear in which the Jews of Kutno live, who are only a few kilometers away from them. For a little while I took them out of their still peaceful world, because they did not know what was expected of them.
I learned that, the day after I escaped from the ghetto, several Jews had been shot dead, among them the youngest son of the shoemaker Buksztajn and the son of the old Arcbajn (Altkrajner), and the troubles did not stop here either. As a foreigner in Kłodawa I had to go to work on behalf of the community in the place of one of the family members with whom I stayed and in return I received alimony and accommodation. However, even this situation did not last long. One night in 1941, the German police woke me up and took me to a labor camp until I reached Buchenwald, where I was released. In the morning I was transferred with other young people to his Koło and from there to the Nowe Miasto labor camp near Poznań. I then began to migrate from a labor camp to a labor camp until I reached the Buchenwald camp, where I was released. In this camp I met many people from Kutno. There is no need to say much about the Buchenwald camp, because the taste of labor camps felt great to many of us.
by Abraham LIFSHITZ, Ohio, USA
I consider it my duty to share my bitter memories in our book of remembrance. These are my personal experiences in the dark years of the German occupation. I will start from the year 1940, because this year is deeply etched in the memory of the Kutner survivors. This was the beginning of the Kutno Holocaust…
The rapid evacuation of any constituency began with a shooting by the Germans, in order to intimidate the crowd and lead them to a state of panic, disorientation and nervousness. Arriving in the small area of the former sugar factory, the Jews of Kutner suddenly saw their tragic distress and loneliness. They packed for a long time and could hardly bring what everyone could carry on their own. Living conditions were appalling, with only a small percentage able to get a stonecovered roof over their heads.
The ghetto was not just lacking apartments. There was also no work, no medical help, no food to spare. And in winter, the cold, the cold and the snow made the bitter life even more bitter. One could only dream of wood and coal to heat the apartments.
The illnesses in most cases ended in death. Every day people died in the streets. In the ghetto, people could hear conversations about who died today, who was ill. The healthy have felt that the day is not far off, when they too will lose their strength.
Under such conditions, I decided to escape from Konstancja. Together with some acquaintances (among them the shoemaker Mosze Buksztajn) we took advantage of the moment when the week changed, and fled through a crowded canal on the other side of the ghetto fence. I got out first. Suddenly I heard some shots. I did not look back, but I did not see any of those who had escaped with me. I later learned that they had all been captured and shot.
Now my journey began from village to village, over forests and fields, through side roads and paths, where there was always a mortal danger to the persecuted Jew. Obviously, I managed to reach no lentils.
Here I met Kutno Jews: Mordechai Buksztajn, Fudalowicz, the Grziwach family. They welcomed me warmly, provided me with an apartment, with work. This has been a great help and encouragement to me. From my earnings I was also able to help my family in the Kutno ghetto.
My joy did not last long. Within a few weeks, I fell ill with typhus. Fearing they would become infected, I forbade my friends to take care of me. I went to the hospital, stayed in a few months and I was out in good health. The Germans wanted to send me back to Kutno. I fled to Grabów, from where the Jews were deported to forced labor in the camps of Poznań. Together with the Grabów Jews and refugees, I was sent to a concentration camp in Poznań. I tried from there contacting in writing with Kutno ghetto, but got no response. I later learned about the liquidation of Konstancja and its inhabitants.
I spent a year in the Poznań camp. I worked, I was hungry, I did not have the freedom but there were no gas chambers, I have not been shot,
or have been especially tortured. This too did not last long. We were sent to Auschwitz. This is where the true hell began.
Crowded in barracks, hungry, bewildered and tormented, it was known that in BirkenauAuschwitz, the crematorium awaited us. On a certain day, during the appeal, I was taken out of the ranks with a large group of detainees, loaded into wagons, and taken away. We arrived in the shady, burnt and desolate Warsaw ghetto, in order to put that neighborhood in order, clean up the dead, and try to erase the traces of the uprising and destruction of the Jewish Warsaw. Those days in the Warsaw ghetto will forever remain in my memory. We needed to pull out the gassed and burnt bodies of men, women and children from bunkers.
Here too, I came out after a year time. We were interned in a camp on Gęsia Street. As we approached the capital of Poland from the front, we began to evacuate to Dachau, in deep Germany. The whole, very long way, had to be traversed on foot. And the German killers have already made sure that we do not get any food or any water on the way…
The death march has begun. We arrived in Łowicz, crossed the Bzura river and thought that here one would at least be able to wet the lips with dirty river water. Our guards, however, placed machine guns on both banks, and whoever bowed to the water to give a drink paid with his life. More than once, the Bzura river has been stained with red bloodshed. Hundreds were killed in the floodwaters.
We continue to drag our feet, we walked without any lights. Here, people were allowed to drink unlimited. Three days and a half were held in Łęczyca. The next bloody mess led to my hometown of Kutno. I march across the main: streets. See also Konstancja … No trace of a Jew, where only a few years ago around eight thousand brothers of the Israelites thought they were going to overthrow Hitler. The Jewish Kutno was one large cemetery. I got used to it at the time until we were pushed into trucks to get to Dachau.
The journey was no less a hell than the oncoming march. Dirty and dirty, with crumbling clothes, from which they smelled very bad, without food we arrived in Dachau a few days before. But the whole road was littered with our victims, camp Jews, who could not stand the horrible conditions and died en masse in the wagons. We didn't stay in Dachau for a long time, only a few days. We were transferred to a small camp in Mildorf. Compared to Auschwitz, this was a pension for us. Here, too, I managed to stay for about a year, until the liberation by the Americans.
After my release, I met some of the surviving Kutno Jews in Germany. In 1945, however, we held a memorial service to commemorate the murdered Jews in our city…
by Berel BALZAMOWICZ, Montreal, Canada
… The Jewish population in Kutno was given only a few hours to leave the former villages and be relocated to the ghetto Konstancja the halfdestroyed sugar factory with some old buildings, where so many Jews needed to be housed. From that day on, my life of pain and wanderings began, like the life of an entire community of Jews from my hometown.
The small area of the ghetto soon created serious problems of order and hygiene. Every nook and cranny was occupied, but hundreds were left outside, under the open sky.
The ghetto was surrounded by barbed wire and was strictly guarded by police. No one was allowed to leave the fenced area. Due to the difficult sanitary conditions, diseases and epidemics broke out in the ghetto and the constant famine increased demoralization.
However, even in those dark days, people did not completely let go. In particular, the youths have done everything possible to renew a certain cultural activity. In the evenings, songs were sung, mainly of their own composition, that portrayed the sad day and promised a better tomorrow. Much has been done to counteract the prevailing mood. The Kirszbaum brothers did much to change the situation.
To this day, it is difficult for me to understand how I left the ghetto. I only remember that an old man, who looked like a beggar, once gave me the address of a Ukrainian family, Chuszko, in the village of Gnojno, 3 km from Konstancja. I took advantage of a moment when the policeman at the ghetto gate met a girl and I was already on the other side.
The Chuszko family treated me very well. In the course of six weeks, I sewed them clothes. True, they did not pay me and I would not take any money, even when they suggested it. I was assured of a home, a good bed, food to satiety and a humane
treatment. Compared to the ghetto I left, the refuge looked to me like paradise. Unfortunately, the case had to end there. The frequent controls and searches for Jews terrorized the Chuczkos and I had to get away from them.
I arrived in the town of Kłodawa, where my uncle W. Balzamovicz lived, my father's brother. The night before, I had met in Krośniewice with the Milosierny family. There was still no ghetto in Kłodawa, Jews could move freely throughout the city, only had to wear yellow badges. It did not take long again and during a commotion in the town, I was caught and taken by a large transport to the town of Koło. After a medical examination, we were sent to BuchwälderFors[?], near NowyTomyśl, in Germany. Before I arrived, I still heard the last news of the Kutno ghetto: the Jews are starving, filthy, and sick. And this image accompanied me all the way during my journey to Wiesenburg, as a captured slave laborer.
Our work was based on the motorways in and around Wiesenburg. Although it was a horrible, the relatively good food and the notsobad treatment of civilian Germans, our overseers, created the illusion that if things went on like this, they would survive the war… When the freeway was completed, we were sent to Kostrzyn, where we met thousands of prisoners from other nations as well. The food there was very bad and someday, the Jews were selected and sent to Auschwitz.
Arriving in hell, we realized that until now we had been privileged prisoners, contrary to what we had seen and tried to hear about the atrocities in Auschwitz. Instead of civilian Germans SS murderers with sadistic and brutal tendencies, our private clothes were replaced by the camp uniform; a number was placed on each arm. Our names have been changed to numbers.
In Auschwitz, I met with Kutno compatriots: Ajzyk Rosenblum, Dawicki, and Zerach Kirszbaum. I do not know what happened to them.
In Auschwitz, in addition to the terror and the prospect of perishing in the gas chamber, there was also a constant famine. I was picked up and assigned to one of the tailor workshops. The work was not too difficult only the joy did not last long. One day, during a selection, 300 men were selected and transferred to block 2, from where the road led directly to the crematorium. I was among the condemned and none of us believed that there would be any more among the living. That's when we were sent to a workshop a few days ago. We had a feeling, as if we came back from that world…
I had a similar case later, when I was sent to the hospital due to weakness, during a selection of the sick, I was the last in line. It seems that the murderers have already had a full count for the gas chamber and several sick of the last row remained alive.
When the first bombs fell on Auschwitz and the Germans felt their defeat, we were taken to Buchenwald and from there to Rehmsdorf. The place was badly damaged by the AngloAmerican aviation. Thousands of prisoners were ordered to continue their march on foot to Theresienstadt, where we awaited the day of the liberation. The SS men suddenly disappeared and in their places appeared our liberators…
by Tamar KOWALSKA, Tel Aviv
Translated from the Yiddish by Marta Krzeminska
Given to print: Kowalski Tamar, Tel-Aviv
Listen up, for I am about to tell you about the miracles, great wonders,
Not one had his residence there,
The life in Konstanz - a genuine delight -
But! Fellow lads, stay cheerful, it's not a time to worry.
(to be sung with the melody of They came and took us) - the title is a transliteration from Polish
Behind the wires I will lead you,
*The word used here is « palaten » - a sarcastic translation of the Russian « palace »
Translated from the Hebrew by Thia Persoff
The book The Wars of the Ghettos [pages 594598] relates the story of the German death camp Chelmno, where the Jews of Kutno and its surrounding area met with their cruel demise. The book was edited by Icchak Cukerman and Mosze Basok, the Icchak Kacnelson Ghetto Fighters Building, and published by the Kibbutz Meuchad Publishing House in the month of Nisan, 1954.
At the end of December 1941, the town of Koło was attacked by German army units. The Jews were rushed out of their homes into the Judenrat that was in a building next to the synagogue. When trucks arrived, the Jews, with their families and their bundles in their arms, came out of the building. At the exit, an S.S. officer was sitting at a table. He held a list of all the Jews of Koło, and each person called was ordered into the truck. About 40 people were loaded onto each truck, and the baggage was loaded onto a towing truck. The guards, and also the members of the Judenrat, said that the people would be taken to work on the railway line. The two trucks carrying Jews were driven by Germans. During the day about a thousand people were evacuated. Among those escorting them was the Volksdeutsche Siuda from Kościelec, who at the time was serving in the military police. He told the Jews do not be afraid, you are being taken to the Barłogy station, from there you will be travelling eastward. The townspeople knew him and believed what he said. Each truck returned 10 to 12 times during the day, which gave strength to our assumption that, indeed, the Jews were being driven not far from Koło.
I was not among the evacuees, because at the time I was registered in Bugaj, Koło district, and so was not on the list of the Koło Jews. I brought to the truck my father, my mother, my sister with her five
children, and my brother and his wife with their three children. I helped them pack their belongings and load them onto the tow truck. I was glad to witness Mr. Goldberg, the owner of a lumber mill in the Koło area, after his son was evacuated, making an effort to implore the German authorities to appoint him the administrator of the Koło station. They promised him the job.
By chance, one of the days, a boy came to the Judenrat building, and said that the Jews were not being taken to Barłogy but to Chelmno. He saw it with his own eyes. To that, the Germans replied that there they are only sorting the Jews, the strongest being chosen for work in the west. Thereafter, the mood was relaxed. The sick ones were evacuated last of all; the drivers were ordered to drive slowly and carefully. The action (aktzia) in Koło lasted four to five days.
At the beginning of January 1942, I was taken, together with another fourteen Jews, to the police station; I was accused of being guilty of aiding the escape of my nephew Mordechai Podchlebnik.
On the Shabbat at four in the afternoon a truck arrived and in it fifteen Jews from Izbica. At the same time a passenger car arrived and in it was an SS officer known to me from the time of the action in Koło (he was the one erasing the names from the list in his hand, of those entering the trucks). We, and the Izbica Jews, were loaded on the truck and driven to Chelmno.
We reached the park area near the palace in Chelmno. The whole area was newly fenced with wooden boards, approximately three meters high, so close together that nothing could be seen inside.
The gate opened up and the truck entered and stopped near the palace. While entering the yard, I raised the tarpaulin a bit and noticed a pile of used clothes. We disembarked. We were led to a cellar between rows of S.S. urging us with screams and rifle butts. They counted us, and then locked the cellar door behind us.
Throughout that week nothing happened; we were locked up in the cellar with nothing to do. A container that was placed there for elimination needs was taken out by one of us under heavy guard. One thing I could discern; heavy guards were posted everywhere.
There were many things written on the cellar walls. Among them, there was one in Yiddish: All who enters here will never leave alive. No more would we delude ourselves about what was to befall us.
On a Monday morning 30 of our men were taken to work in the forest. Ten men, including me, stayed in the cellar. There was a small window in the cellar, but it was completely covered by wooden planks. At eight o'clock a truck came to the palace. I heard a German voice addressing the arrivals. One of the things he said was You will go to the east where there is work available in many places. All you have to do is wash up and change your clothes to the clean ones that will be given to you. We heard applause. After a short time, we heard bare feet running in the cellar's corridor near the area of our incarceration, and we heard German voices: Hurry, hurry! Apparently, the Jews were being transferred through the corridor to the inner courtyard. All of a sudden, I heard the creaking of a closing door, shouting, banging on the side of the truck, and then the truck's engine being started. After six to seven minutes, when the shouting stopped, the truck left the yard.
At the same time, we, the remaining ten Jewish labourers, were summoned upstairs to a large room on whose floor were laid, all in a mess, men's and women's clothes, coats and shoes. We were ordered to move them out quickly into a different room, which was already loaded with clothes and shoes. We organized the shoes in one pile, and as soon as we finished the job, we were rushed back to the cellar. Soon another truck arrived, and we repeated the work as described. And so it went on the whole day.
In the evening, when our friends returned from their work in the forest, they told us that they buried the Jews of Klodawa in a mass grave. They took the corpses out of large black painted buses, in which the Jews were put to death by poison gas. The corpses were wrapped in white, and inside the car were strewn towels and bars of soap. This strengthened my assumption that after the Jews took off their clothes, they received towels and soap and were taken to the cellar as if to bathe. Three or four from the group of the forest labourers did not return that day; they were not satisfactory, so were shot right there.
On the next day I, too, was among those going to the forest. As I went out, I noticed large vehicles standing at the edge of the yard, their backs towards the palace. Their doors were open, and boards were positioned onto them, for easing the entrance into them. I noticed that on the floor were wooden grates, like the ones found in bathrooms. They put us thirty labourers into two vehicles, one for passengers, and one for loading various things. We were driven to the forest behind Chelmno, with thirty S.S. guarding us. In the forest, a pit had been dug a big mass grave for killed Jews. We were handed pickaxes and shovels, and ordered to dig and lengthen the pit.
At eight o'clock in the morning, the first vehicle arrived from Chelmno. When its doors were opened, a dark smoke erupted from it, and we were forbidden to approach it, not even to look towards the open doors. However, I noticed that the Germans took off from the vehicle at full speed. I could not determine the kind of gases that came out of the vehicle, as we stood quite some distance away, and the smells did not reach us and we did not use gas masks. After three to four minutes, three Jews climbed up to the truck and threw out the corpses; inside the vehicle the killed had fallen on top of each other in a haphazard way, filling about half of the space. Some were holding their dear ones in their arms; some of them were still alive, and the S.S. men
hastened their end by pistol fire. Some were shot it the head, and some in the neck. After all the corpses were unloaded, the vehicle returned to Chelmno.
At noon we were given food, and then ordered to come out of the pit without the shovels, and stand in a circle. The S.S. men were already standing in a second circle. We received black coffee and the food that the Jews had brought in their bags. That night, after work, Krzewacki from Klodawa and another Jew whose name I don't remember, hanged themselves. I wanted to do the same, but was persuaded not to do so.
While riding to work I noticed that one of the windows could be opened. I told my friend Winer from Izbica about it, and suggested a plan for escape. We decided to carry it out the next day; during the ride to work we would jump out through the window and escape to the forest. The next day we were separated. I was put in a truck and Winer in a bus. I decided to escape by myself. When the truck was already in the forest, I approached the escorting guard and asked him for a cigarette. When I received it, I moved back and my friends encircled him, one after the other asking for
cigarettes. With a knife that I had concealed on myself, in a sudden, quick motion, I sliced through the tarpaulin and jumped out of the vehicle. They were few shots after me, but they missed me. I was glad that there was no bus behind us, so that they shot only from the truck.
The fact of the missing bus made me assume that Winer had escaped, causing the bus to stop. As I ran in the forest, some citizen riding a bicycle tried to stop me by shooting with a pistol, but I escaped and sneaked into some threshing area and hid in the hay pile. In the morning I heard people's voices near the threshing area, standing and discussing that the Germans are searching for Jews who had escaped. After two days without any food, I sneaked out of the hay and went towards Grabów. On the way I went to a farmer's home (I do not know his name). He gave me a farmer's hat, I shaved and he showed me the way.
In Grabów, I found Winer from Izbica.
From Grabów I went to Rzeszów, and my ties to Chelmno were cut. Winer was lost; it seems, in the area of Zamość, in 1944.
When the Soviet armies came closer, the annihilation of the last Jews started. They were taken five at a time, ordered to lie down on the ground and were shot in the neck. This time the Jews revolted; one of them, Mordechai Zurawski, a knife in his hand, had burst through the guards and escaped before their eyes, and they could not find him. A few Jews, tailors, broke through a door that lead downwards, and when two Germans opposed them (one of them Lentz), they were killed by the Jews. Machineguns were directed towards the opening of the cellar and started shooting inside. At that same time the store room went up in flames.
So were the last Jews in Chelmno annihilated.
The liquidation of the camp had started in SeptemberOctober. The furnaces were destroyed and the heaps of ruins were scattered along the forest paths. The Death Vehicles were transported to Berlin. The number of labourers in Chelmno decreased continually. One day, sixty labourers were reported to have been transported to a different camp, but in reality, all were killed. Later we found their clothes in the place where they were killed. In Chelmno the labourers were housed in a store room, the tailors and shoemakers were in an area upstairs, those that worked in the camp and the forest were downstairs.
On the night of January 17, 1945, Lentz entered the store room and called five men to come outside. A moment later five shots were heard. We knew that all of us were lost, that one by one we would be exterminated. With a wooden plank in my hand, I knocked on the ceiling to alert the tailors and the shoemakers upstairs. I decided to escape, no matter what. With a knife in my hand, I stood by the door, behind a blanket partition. When the fourth quintet was taken out and the door closed, I stormed the door with full swing, and apparently knocked down Lentz who had closed it. I ran with all my strength, while hitting out with the knife to the right and left. I was like a madman. Later I found out that I lopped off one guard's nose, and another's ear. Though I was hit hard with the butt of a guardsman gun, and I was shot at, one bullet hitting my right thigh, I continued to run. While climbing and going over the fence I injured my right hand severely, exposing the bone. While being pursued, I ran towards the forest. Lying down in a ditch, I heard the voices of two guards riding bicycles, alarming the local people and notifying them of my escape. When they had gone, I got up and ran until I reached the village of Umien. I hid in a threshing area for a night and a full day. During my run, I looked back and I saw that the store room was going up in flames, and heard the sound of shots from there. Before my escape, I had got rid of the chain binding me while still in the store room, by cutting the chain's links with a large barbed wire fence cutter that I had saved.
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